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Direct Line with Vladimir Putin 2019, by Vladimir Putin

Direct Line with Vladimir Putin 2019, by Vladimir Putin

Direct Line with Vladimir Putin 2019, by Vladimir Putin
June 25
18:53 2019
JPEG - 89.7 kb

Tatyana Remezova: Good afternoon.

As of now, we have received some 1.5 million questions from the public. Actually, the figure exceeded 1.5 million this morning. The most popular form of address is a telephone call. We have received nearly one million of them. Each call is recorded and processed by operators and is presented in a special inquiry form.

We have received nearly 400,000 text and MMS messages. However, this year the people are very actively using the website moskva-putinu.ru to ask their questions. It is very simple and easy to use. People can make video calls, talk with an operator, send a text message or record a video message. This is very simple to do. Just click on the Record button. The only condition is that your message must not exceed one minute. Now click on the Send button. Your address will be processed by our staff. It means that your message has reached us.

The benefit of sending a video message is that you can tell us about your problem and also let us see it. It can be a bumpy road, a rubbish heap or a leaking roof. We will be broadcasting live the messages about the most acute problems.

The OK Live service is another high-tech means of reaching us. This service will connect you directly to us in this studio; we will try and do this during this programme. Not a single call will remain unanswered. Every call will be processed, and, as I have already said, summed up in a special form that includes your contact information. The most important part is that work on your calls will also continue after Direct Line.

Pavel Zarubin: Good afternoon. Mr President, shall we begin?

President of Russia Vladimir Putin: Good afternoon. Of course, let us proceed.

Pavel Zarubin: Over the past few days we saw for the first time how you prepare for Direct Line. We saw you sitting over a heap of questions and reading other messages on your laptop. What looked like the most important to you? What are the most acute problems?

Vladimir Putin: In fact, it is clear that I should always be informed and aware of what is going on in reality. In the course of the current work it is more or less clear what people are concerned about. But during the preparations for Direct Line, of course, we find out some things that are the most pressing and important at that particular point. At the moment, and it is not a secret or a revelation, people are most concerned about the quality of life, incomes and healthcare. These issues are followed by waste treatment; this is what I heard just now. So, these are the most pressing issues. Housing and utilities.

Pavel Zarubin: It is true, we have received great many questions regarding these issues, but there is something else. As I understand, these problems should be solved by national projects. Everyone talks about them; officials at all levels talk about national projects. But, judging by the questions, it seems that people do not quite understand what these national projects are and what they are supposed to achieve. Will they be useful in the end?

Vladimir Putin: Yes, of course, and I am grateful that you chose to begin with this issue because all of our work revolves around it today. In fact, the work revolves around people, but in order to achieve the best results for our people, for our citizens, for the development of the economy, we created these so-called national projects. The ultimate goal of national projects is to put the economy on new track, make it tech-intensive and improve labour productivity, thus improving the quality of life and our country’s long-term security. Therefore, we divided the areas of activity, not by the level of importance, but in a certain order in accordance with the distribution of resources.

It was a challenging job. First of all, we needed to decide how we would attain the result set and where to find the funds for the measures the state is supposed to finance.

Regrettably, one of the Government’s decisions was to increase VAT from 18 to 20 percent. In part, it was done, as I have already said, to replenish the budget and to start working on one of the state’s obligations, that is, on infrastructure development.

For example, who will build railway lines, bridges, motorways or electricity lines? None of this, as well as some other structural jobs, can be done without the involvement of the state.

And then we coordinated the decision, calculating how much we need in order to boost the development of certain sectors and to increase people’s incomes to a new level.

I would like to say once again that, regrettably, we had to take some unpleasant measures – let us put it this way. But we believed from the very start that the relatively negative effects of these measures could and would be very short-lived. Overall, the Government and the Central Bank turned out to be right, alas – inflation increased for a period of six months.

What does this “inflation increased” mean? It means that the Central Bank raised the key interest rate, it means that production fell a little, and so on.

We can see now that production is on the rise again, that inflation is declining – I believe it fell to below 5 percent as of the day before yesterday, and that incomes started growing…

We will talk about this in more detail later, of course, but it is true that incomes have started growing again. In other words, our plans and the methods of implementing them appear to be effective, at least so far.

Yelena Vinnik: Mr President, let us continue.

You have mentioned a decline in incomes. We all see it too. There are a lot of questions. I will read just a few very short ones, they are from different regions.

“Could you please tell us when life will get better, at least a little bit? It is very difficult to raise children with a salary of 10,000.” This is from Vladimir Nenashev, Samara Region.

Perm Territory: “Why are single-industry towns dying? We have two plants, but there is no work, young people either leave or take to drink. ”

Very, very many questions. I know that shortly before we went on air, a video question was sent in, so I am giving the floor to our call centre.

Natalya Yuryeva: Thank you. We really have a lot of questions about low wages, which are simply impossible to live on. People cannot even afford essentials: food, clothes for themselves and their children. And, most often, the problems hit the ones that our lives depend on – teachers and doctors.

For example, a teacher of the highest category from Orel wrote to us that she makes 10,764 rubles a month; another teacher, also the highest category from the Tver Region, 15,000; and a doctor from Murmansk, about 20,000.

Stanislav Taukachiskas, a firefighter from the Kaliningrad Region, makes even less than that, as it turns out. We simply cannot help but show the video message that he sent to Direct Line.

Stanislav Taukachiskas: Hello, Mr President,

My name is Stanislav Taukachiskas, I am from Svetly in the Kaliningrad Region. I work here at Fire Station No.31.

Could you tell me, please, when will they raise my salary? At the moment, the salary of a firefighter is 12,000–13,000 rubles; as the squad leader, I make 16,000.

It is impossible to live on that, not with the current prices: we are forced to find two or three jobs and are hardly ever at home. Families are falling apart because of this.

Moreover, fire brigades are understaffed – two or three people on guard. You see what is happening now in the country: fields are burning, summer cottages, larger structures. When will this be sorted out?

Thank you.

Vladimir Putin: First of all, we should check what you said about the 10,000 ruble wages. We must know what is really going on. Why? Because we have recently decided to increase the minimum wage and raise it to the subsistence level, which is 11,280 rubles.

Those who work full time must not be paid less than the subsistence wage. I cannot understand why they only receive 10,000 rubles.

Yelena Vinnik: They write that their salary is 10,000 rubles and that whatever they get above that, they receive as a bonus.

Pavel Zarubin: People write that the minimum wage has been reduced in some regions by regional authorities.

Vladimir Putin: In this case, it is a matter for the regulatory authorities to check up on. Or these people are working part-time. Each particular case must be examined individually. This is the first thing I wanted to say.

Now to the problem at hand. Frankly, it is true that the situation at the Emergencies Ministry is far from positive. Because the wages of some of the Ministry’s uniformed personnel are small, just as this person has said. I do not know if he is a military man, because a military man doing his job would have earned some 43,000 rubles a month, while civilian personnel only receive between 13,000 and 16,000 rubles.

Over the past few months, I discussed this matter several times with [Emergencies] Minister [Yevgeny] Zinichev, who constantly raised this question with the Government.

A decision has been taken: this year we will allocate 4.3 billion rubles to the Emergencies Ministry so as to raise the wages of the ministry staff, such as the man who has written to us, to some 24,000 rubles.

Next year, we plan to allocate 4 billion rubles every six months, or 8 billion altogether, so that this man’s salary should increase to some 32,000 rubles.

Yelena Vinnik: Let us ask if our call centre has received any new calls.

Natalya Yuryeva: Yes, we are swamped with calls; there are more than 1.5 million of them. There is an incoming call from a pensioner. Where from? Moscow. And that caller has not yet given a name.

Colleagues, we have an incoming video call. We will read out the question as soon as the caller formulates it.

Yelena Vinnik: Yes, Natalya.

Let me get back to the decline in incomes. Over this time, we have received thousands of messages saying that people are earning less. Everyone writes that: those who have good wages, those who belong to the middle class and those who are not embarrassed to call themselves poor. And what is probably important here is not the numbers as such but the way people feel. People write that life has become more difficult. When will it get easier?

Vladimir Putin: This is true. This is why I consider this issue to be one of the most relevant and important.

Let me remind you that several years ago we faced several shocks. These are not just the external shocks from the so-called sanctions or the current restrictions, but the situation on the market of our traditional goods such as oil, oil products, gas, hydrocarbons in general, metals, chemical fertilisers, chemistry in general and some other products as well.

This is why we can see this unpleasant element in the economy and the social sphere. It is true that real incomes have been declining for several years. The biggest decline took place in 2016, I believe.

Now incomes are gradually rising again. We should distinguish between two notions: people’s real disposable incomes and wages.

Real disposable income, which, according to statistics, have been decreasing, is made up of many markers, including income and expenses. Today, payments on loans is one of these markers, and banks provide loans that amount to 40 percent of the wages, so to speak, which, of course, may have consequences.

Remark: It is risky.

Vladimir Putin: Yes, I agree, it is risky. The Central Bank must pay attention to it, because we do not need these bubbles in our economy. Nevertheless, people take out loans, and then they have to repay them, which has a negative effect on real incomes.

About 100,000 self-employed individuals have registered officially, the shadow market has decreased, and this also affects real incomes. There are other factors as well; I will not list them all here.

Speaking of wages, we can see that wages continue to increase both in nominal and real terms. In nominal terms, it looks like this: in 2017, gross wage in the economy was slightly over 39,000 (39,200) rubles, while this year, it is nearly 45,700, with the figure for the last month standing at 48,500.

I would like to make a reservation straight away, so that Internet users and television audience watching us now don’t get angry that they don’t get such wages. This is natural, I am talking about average figures.

Why do we have to use these average figures? This is because the situation differs greatly, depending on the specific sector or region. The people who are getting paid in Tyva are one thing, and those in Moscow, Tyumen or Ingushetia are another matter.

Speaking of various sectors, the oil industry, the financial sphere and the transport sector pay different wages. But the format of our meeting makes it impossible to discuss each sector and each region separately for three or five hours.

Therefore I and some other colleagues have to use average figures that, nevertheless, show the overall trend. What is this trend like? In the past, gross wages were just 33,000 rubles, and now the total is almost 45,000.

Real wages are calculated depending on specific growth rates. In 2018, we saw 8.5 percent growth rates, and two percent growth rates were posted in early 2019. The May 2019 growth rates are estimated at 2.8 percent.

Why did we see such growth rates last year? First, I believe this was due to economic recovery. Second, all levels of government tried to fulfil the 2012 executive orders, and even in late 2018 they were adding and adding and adding.

By the way, some of the provisions of the May 2012 executive orders may not have been fulfilled. But if it were not for these documents, we would fail to achieve such results because the executive orders force all levels of government to work and achieve results, no matter what. This is the second thing.

Third, as I have already said, we have raised minimum wages to the minimum subsistence level.

By the way, initial wage increases covered 44 million people. One way or another, 44 million people received large or small wage rises.

Increasing minimum wages covered an additional 3.7 million people. This year, we will index the pay grades of service personnel.

There will certainly be questions about pensions today, but I’ll say right now, because ensuring that retired citizens get a sufficient income is one of the state’s priorities, of course, and we will certainly keep an eye on it. This year, the indexation of the insurance old-age pensions was 7.05 percent, with last year’s inflation at 4.3 percent. This is the first point.

Secondly, starting from April 1, we raised state pensions and social pensions by 2 percent following the increase of the subsistence minimum for pensioners. From October 1, retired military’s pensions will be increased by 4.3 percent.

As I already said, this will be done along with the increase in military compensations. On the whole, we are moving forward – we can see this problem and will certainly deal with it and will focus on it.

Yelena Vinnik: Will life get easier, in general?

Vladimir Putin: You see, this is what all the national projects that I mentioned are aimed at. Actually, the general solution to this problem is not government funds injected into industry or something else.

The general way is to increase labour productivity, to develop the economy, and on this basis increase and improve the standard of living of the citizens – on the basis of growth. Everything else is auxiliary, because where do you think the government gets the money from? Also from the way the economy works.

Yelena Vinnik: Mr President, let’s continue.

Another topic is healthcare, with a lot of questions.

On the one hand, everyone is talking about progress, which is obvious; new medical centres are opening, including high-tech ones. On the other hand, outpatient clinics are closing, and the quality of medical care does not always correspond to what the patients expect.

These are common problems for the whole country. Therefore, our camera crews went to three places from where people called Direct Line.

We have three regions with us via videoconference: the Chelyabinsk Region, the Pskov and Smolensk regions.

Mikhail Akinchenko: Mikhail Akinchenko, Roslavl, Smolensk Region. We are standing in front of a children’s clinic.

Anton Vernitsky: I am Anton Vernitsky, and I am together with the camera crew in the Pskov Regional Oncological Centre.

Dmitry Shchugorev: Dmitry Shchugorev here, in a paramedic centre in Mauk, Chelyabinsk Region.

Vladimir Putin: Go ahead, colleagues.

Mikhail Akinchenko: Good afternoon, once again.

As I said, we are here in Roslavl, in front of the children’s clinic. First of all, a few words about this town. It is an administrative centre of the district with a population of around 50,000 people. There is a hospital and two clinics: one for adults, one for children. We received a complaint for Direct Line from a young mother, Svetlana Vekshina, who is here next to me. Three and a half months ago she gave birth to a child, a boy. By the way, we missed that point, what is the name of your son, Svetlana?

Svetlana Vekshina: Maxim.

Mikhail Akinchenko: A great name. So, Maxim is quiet and does not speak but his mother has something to say.

Svetlana, could you tell us, please, about the problems you encountered when you moved here from Moscow?

Svetlana Vekshina: Hello,

During the initial examination in Moscow we were given a list of medical specialists that my son had to see on a stage-by-stage basis, as well as a list of examinations that we had to go through once a month or once every two or three months.

We moved here and the first thing we faced, regardless whether I had made an appointment to see a doctor, was the queues, and children having to wait, sometimes for more than two hours. The first time we went for our appointment, we had to wait for over two hours. And the second thing is the absence of specialists, which is the most important thing as far as I see it. So we could not make appointments, as per the list we were given, to see doctors and go through the examinations from that list. The list of available examinations is very limited.

Mikhail Akinchenko: And where do you go to see specialists, if you need to?

Svetlana Vekshina: Nowhere, so far. Well, maybe there is an option to go to Smolensk. But Smolensk is a regional city and it takes two and a half hours to get there by coach. First you need to get to the coach, then travel there by coach, and with a small child this is a very tiresome trip.

Mikhail Akinchenko: On the whole, the situation is clear but we would probably like to hear the alternative point of view as well. We have come here and are right by the children’s clinic. Since we have come, although without any warning, let us hear what the doctors have to say. By the way, it is Thursday today and on Thursdays, the clinic issues appointment slips to see pediatric specialists. Today, there was a queue of people waiting for these slips here, at the front desk. But now it is afternoon and there is no queue. We do not see anyone but, theoretically, we should be able to get a slip today. Let us ask the staff at the front desk. There is such a wonderful woman here.

Hello. Direct Line with Vladimir Putin here. We are now on the air. Could you tell us please whether there really are problems with doctors? Could you tell us which specialists people are queuing to see? What is your name? Could you please introduce yourself?

Remark: Marina.

Mikhail Akinchenko: Marina, are there queues to see pediatric specialists? Could you tell us?

Remark: No, but people can arrange to see a doctor in person, by telephone and via the government services website.

Mikhail Akinchenko: And when is it possible to get an appointment, with a pediatric surgeon for instance?

Remark: One moment. Today, people made appointments with a surgeon. He will receive them.

Mikhail Akinchenko: On what day?

Remark: Thursday, June 20.

Mikhail Akinchenko: So, today it is possible to get an appointment for today? So if I made this appointment, I could see the surgeon immediately?

Remark: Yes.

Mikhail Akinchenko: And what about a neurologist or an ENT specialist?

Remark: The ENT specialist will also receive patients today.

Mikhail Akinchenko: In other words, you do not see a problem with specialists, you have enough doctors. Is that right? You do not have queues, do you?

Remark: Well, certain problems occur from time to time but we resolve them as they happen. Doctors receive everyone.

Mikhail Akinchenko: I see. Thank you very much.

Let us try to see the head of the clinic. The point is that this clinic is located on the ground floor of a five-storey residential building. Its layout is fairly standard. We were here yesterday and found her office. It is very close to here, office #15, Natalya Mochalova. Let us see whether she is in her office now.

Good afternoon. Ms Mochalova?

Natalya Mochalova: Yes?

Mikhail Akinchenko: I am Mikhail Akinchenko, and this is Direct Line with Vladimir Putin.

Ms Mochalova, the people complain that there is a shortage of doctors. Is this true? Can you update us on the situation? How many doctors do you have, and how many should you have?

Natalya Mochalova: Yes, we do have problems with the number of medical staff. This year we expect two new doctors to join us, two district paediatricians. As of now, we are short four district doctors.

Mikhail Akinchenko: How many people do you have on the staff now?

Natalya Mochalova: I cannot give you the exact figure. We have 13 doctors now, but we need four more.

Mikhail Akinchenko: That is, you are short one-third of the required staff. What are the highest and lowest wages doctors receive? Are they enough to attract doctors?

Natalya Mochalova: Every region has its own level of wages. I believe our local government knows the answer to this question.

Mikhail Akinchenko: Don’t you know it?

Natalya Mochalova: The average wage of a young professional upon graduation ranges between 20,000 and 25,000 rubles.

Mikhail Akinchenko: I can tell you that we looked for information on private clinics on job vacancy websites. For example, such clinics in Roslavl offer 60,000 rubles at the least, which means the wage gap between the public and the private sector is huge.

Ms Mochalova, you can take your problem up with the President. What would you like to ask him about the shortage of specialists?

Natalya Mochalova: I would rather address my question to the federal authorities. I am not sure, but graduates should probably be assigned to the regions after they graduate. Probably, this is the only solution to this problem.

Mikhail Akinchenko: Well, this is the issue we wanted to raise. I hope its essence is more or less clear.

This was Roslavl.

Anton Vernitsky: The Pskov Regional Oncology Centre is a state-of-the-art healthcare facility that was renovated completely just three years ago. In 2016, Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev was shown this centre’s equipment. You see, it received the so-called heavy-duty equipment, including CT scans, a computerised linear accelerator and gamma radiation systems. The state invested almost 1.5 billion rubles in the centre’s reconstruction. This is an expensive centre with expensive equipment. Mr President, three years have passed and people from Pskov are complaining to Direct Line that it is very hard to get an appointment with an oncologist, many people waiting in corridors, there are always queues, and people come here at 5am to get their names on the waiting list.

Let’s ask the front desk.

Hello. I understand that you did not expect us to come. Could you please tell me if you have a lot of people who come here to get an appointment? How many people came today?

Remark: People come by appointment.

Anton Vernitsky: And you do not have any problems with the appointments.

Remark: As you can see, it is not crowded here.

Anton Vernitsky: The thing is that we did not bring any cameras the other day, and we saw a lot of people queuing in the corridors. Let’s try and make a brief tour of the centre. Indeed, this is a modern centre. It was not just renovated; it features state-of-the-art equipment. Unfortunately, Russia still has few such centres so far.

The doctors are now saying that they can show us their equipment. But we don’t want to see the equipment. We just want to talk to the people who have appointments.

Could you please tell me how long it took you to get an appointment to see a doctor? Are there any problems with this?

Remark: No, there aren’t.

Anton Vernitsky: Can you get an appointment straight away?

Remark: Not straight away, but …

Anton Vernitsky: No, or it could take some time?

Remark: Of course. I, for example, had to be on a waiting list at a district outpatient clinic.

Anton Vernitsky: Did this take you a long time?

Remark: Of course.

Anton Vernitsky: How long did it take you?

Remark: Three weeks.

Anton Vernitsky: Are there not enough specialists?

Remark: That’s right.

Anton Vernitsky: You are now speaking live with President Vladimir Putin, who can hear you. So, are there not enough specialists?

Remark: There are not enough specialists. All doctors leave us. They are probably not paid enough. I don’t know.

Anton Vernitsky: The local governor mentioned this too when congratulating medics on Medical Worker Day this past Sunday. Actually, he said that 43 percent of vacancies in the region remain vacant.

The problem of this state-of-the-art centre has to be resolved. Anyone who can do so leaves for clinics in St Petersburg and Moscow, although this centre has modern equipment. It has excellent equipment and good doctors, but their number is small. How can we help?

Pavel Zarubin: Let us go over to the third city straight away.

Vladimir Putin: Please.

Dmitry Shchugorev: We are in the village of Mauk, Chelyabinsk Region, at the local paramedic centre. As you can see, they have a dentist’s chair now, which is an incredible thing in itself. Because you can rarely find a paramedic centre in a rural area, not to mention a dentist’s chair. This has become a sort of a symbol of rebirth: the paramedic centre reopened here in February; it had been closed for three years because there was a lack of funds and because the specialists who worked here were made redundant.

The centre used to have four employees, and now there are only two. Nevertheless, just the fact that they have access to a paramedic and a nurse, that a dentist comes once a month, is a huge support for local residents. Now pensioners, for example, do not need to travel 25 kilometres to the nearest town of Kasli, which is a very long way for them.

However, some negative aspects remain, because, for example, physiotherapy is still not available because the equipment is too old. The biggest problem, ultimately, is staff, the fact that young professionals do not come here, despite the fact that the Rural Doctor programme has been launched. Svetlana is a paramedic, her shift ended two hours ago, but she kindly agreed to talk with us.

Svetlana, could you please tell us do you agree that the village needs young specialists like doctors and paramedics? Why they do not come here?

Svetlana Katashova: Good afternoon. I believe that the main problem here is the shortage of housing in the village. There is no decent housing. When specialists come here, they like our village, the nature here.

Dmitry Shchugorev: So, they came?

Svetlana Katashova: They did, yes. But they have one question: where will we live? And there is no decent housing, they do not agree to live in such conditions and so they go back. And we live here, we were born here.

Dmitry Shchugorev: There are two people working here: you and your assistant, the nurse, who works part time. How do you cope? Is it hard for just the two of you?

Svetlana Katashova: It gets hard sometimes, especially during the autumn and winter period, when infection outbreaks start, like colds and flu. Of course, it can get very hard.

Dmitry Shchugorev: Thank you. It is an obvious and objective problem for many rural paramedic centres in Russia. We know that the regional government plans to increase the number of such centres by 100 within three years. Of course, such problems must be taken into account because they affect very many towns, especially small ones.

Yelena Vinnik: Mr President, you can see the effect of Direct Line. Problems end as soon as Direct Line starts. But the shortage of personnel is a very real problem.

Vladimir Putin: It is.

Pavel Zarubin: If you consider it necessary, we have Healthcare Minister Veronika Skvortsova with us today.

Vladimir Putin: Yes, I see her. I will give her the floor later.

But first I would like to say the following. When we speak about healthcare, we should remember that this sector is improving, by and large, although it does have its problems, many problems, just as any other sector that is directly concerned with the people, works with and helps the people.

What are the main problems we must settle, and which problems should we focus on as a priority?

First, the availability of primary medical care. You have mentioned rural paramedic centres here. I will speak about this later.

Second, specialists and the shortage of certain specialists.

And third, the provision of medicine. These are the three main problems. There are more problems, but I consider these the most important ones.

First, regarding the situation with the availability of primary medical care. It is true that we see the curtailment of the outpatient part of this service in some regions. The number of rural paramedic centres has decreased by 2 percent, while the number of outpatient departments has increased by 26 across the country. However, the share of primary medical care, or more precisely the number of outpatient departments, has decreased dramatically in some regions, in 15 to 18 regions. Some of them are quite prosperous regions with experienced and effective management staff.

In the Krasnodar Territory, primary care has been reduced by 25 percent across the region, the same as in the Chechen Republic; the Kirov Region has also seen a significant reduction, although not by as much as 25 percent. And all these regions are led by very competent and effective people. There are 15 other regions like that, 18 in total. I am asking the Healthcare Minister to pay attention to this when talking to her colleagues in the regions, and the leaders of these regions should also pay attention to this. This is the first point.

Secondly, we are talking about these rural paramedic centres, they are very important, and should be supported of course. In the near future, 390 new centres are expected to be built and 1,200 existing ones overhauled, but they require major repair work.

Furthermore, in small towns, a mobile medical care system is being developed. I suppose as many as 3,800 mobile units have been created, and over a period of the next few years, say in the next three years maybe, about 1,200 more are expected to be launched. Equipment must be procured for them, and teams need to be formed, and so on. This will all be done towards ensuring the availability of primary healthcare.

It is definitely necessary to develop a system for district GPs, or village paramedics, so we pay, respectively, a million or 500,000 rubles, to those who want to go there and work as a county doctor or a county paramedic.

A doctor from one of the regions has just outlined one of the major problems – housing. This problem needs to be dealt with. The federal government pays them a lump sum of 1 million or 500,000 [as a relocation allowance], but the matter of housing should be handled by the regional and local authorities. We talked about this many times. And they should earmark funds in their budgets for these purposes; otherwise, of course, people will leave.

The next problem is personnel. Indeed, there is still a shortage of staff – 25,000 doctors and 130,000 nurses. One of the key aspects here, of course, is raising their wages. Again, I just heard now that the wages are low. They are growing across the country; with doctors, this year’s growth has brought their average monthly pay close to 77,000. This is for the whole country, and Moscow and St Petersburg, there are high salaries there. But there are regions where there are very low salaries, and we certainly need to level this out. The same applies to nursing staff; there has been, I think, a growth of 3.5 percent, to about 35,000, Ms Skvortsova can correct me, maybe around 39,000 is the average pay. Again, I repeat – this is the average for the entire country. And for junior staff, growth was 2.2 percent, to 35,000, also an average. We need to bear this in mind.

And medicine provision – this is, of course, an extremely important thing, especially for life-saving medicines.

Yelena Vinnik: Very many questions concern subsidised medicines. The people cannot receive vital and essential medicines, for some reason, for conditions such as diabetes or other diseases. We will likely redirect this question to the Healthcare Minister.

Vladimir Putin: I will give the floor to Ms Skvortsova, but first of all I would like the people, especially in the regions, to listen to me, because there is a difference between what the Minister says and what I say.

What is it all about? Medicines are provided to people from two sources: the federal centre and the regions.

The federal funds allocated for this purpose were transferred to the regions in full back in February, yet we see problems with the supply of some medicine. Besides, the situation differs depending on the illness, such as cancer or diabetes.

Yelena Vinnik: There is also high blood pressure.

Vladimir Putin: Yes, the third ailment is high blood pressure. The funds were transferred in full as well.

What do we see? We see that many regions take too long to organise the purchasing procedure, delay tenders and do not have a smooth information system even within the boundaries of one region.

Take the Smolensk Region. Ms Skvortsova can tell you about it – she updated me barely two days ago. Was it the Smolensk Region or not? I could be wrong; she knows better. No, it was not Smolensk.

Well, we sent an inspection team there. And what was discovered? The warehouses are filled up with medicine, which is not reaching the people. Why? Because the distribution system has no information about what is available in the warehouses. We need to streamline the information sector and adopt new methods of working with the people.

Now for the Thrifty Outpatient Clinic project. I have seen how it works in some regions, and it does help to seriously improve the quality of the medical service. By the way, the number of patients in such clinics has greatly increased. This idea has a huge potential.

As for the regions, part of the vital and essential medicine is purchased in the regions. Regrettably, only seven regions buy the full list of medicine like this. In the rest of the regions the list of these vital medicines that people need is made shorter, the necessary medication is not purchased.

There may be many reasons for this, but I would like to point out that the regional authorities must be aware of their priorities. It is one thing to launch a construction project, giving construction companies an opportunity to make money and to create new jobs. But the life and health of the people are another matter altogether. They are an unquestionable priority and something the authorities must take care of.

Ms Skvortsova, please go ahead.

Healthcare Minister Veronika Skvortsova: Thank you very much.

Good afternoon, I would like to comment on several points.

Of course, Mr President, we are very proactive in developing the outpatient and ambulatory care structure. Starting in 2014, we have seen an outpatient care revival both in rural areas and urban localities.

The rural infrastructure’s supply level is already now 22 percent higher. Each year, we build between 300 and 500 rural paramedic centres. This year, at least 350 such centres will be built. The outpatient/ambulatory units are considerably better now too.

At the same time, as you said, we have regions – 17 of them out of 85 – that have somewhat reduced the potential of the outpatient/ambulatory institutions. We are working with these regions and are in direct contact with the governors and the ministers.

If we speak about ambulatory pediatric clinics, over a period of the last four years we saw the number of district pediatricians rise by more than two thousand and the ratio of those holding more than one job declined. Today, it amounts to just 1.1 percent, which means that the situation is getting better. In 2016, we introduced primary certification, and this is a great help.

Yelena Vinnik: Ms Skvortsova, please tell us, what is happening with subsidised medicine in the regions? Could you comment? Why is subsidised medicine not always available in the regions?

Veronika Skvortsova: As Mr President said, we have considerably increased the amount of federal budget subsidies for this category of medicine. Today’s figure is 156 billion rubles. The first instalment was sent to the regions on January 17 and the rest arrived before February 7.

Over the past few months of this year, we have monitored the situation in all the regions. In 30 regions, we have discovered serious organisational and logistic shortcomings. I am referring to purchase rescheduling, wrong purchasing procedures, and, on top of this, inability to manage commodity stocks.

As a rule, these are the regions, where there is no normal digital system of subsidised medicine provision and where healthcare organisers do not know what storage facilities or which medical organisations have a surplus. A case in point mentioned by the President is the Saratov Region.

Pavel Zarubin: Thank you. We hope that these problems will be ironed out. We have very many other questions from a whole lot of different regions.

Vladimir Putin: Just a minute…

After all, you were telling me about a region, where recently…

Veronika Skvortsova: This was the Saratov Region.

Vladimir Putin: The Saratov Region, right. There’s a lot of medicine on the warehouse shelves, but not in the pharmacy chain.

As for the funds, I can say that there has been a considerable rise, especially for cancer. We have doubled the financing of cancer medicine purchases. For example, there was 80 billion [rubles] for chemotherapy, and now 150 [billion rubles].

Veronika Skvortsova: Quite right!

Vladimir Putin: Cancer has been made a separate focus area within the Healthcare national project.

Pavel Zarubin: We are moving to the call centre now. There are very many calls.

Natalya Yuryeva, take over.

Natalya Yuryeva: Thank you, Pavel.

We are being swamped with questions. Right now we have an incoming video call. I will ask the operator to broadcast it now.

This year we have very many questions about national projects, for obvious reasons. Some people are upset that they cannot take part in them because they do not meet the requirements, while others wonder if we need them at all. The incoming video call has to do with this subject.

Good afternoon. You are on the air. Please introduce yourself and ask your question.

Valentina Volodina: Good afternoon. My name is Valentina Volodina, and I am from Moscow.

Good afternoon, Mr President.

I have a question about national projects. People talk a lot about them, and here is what I would like to ask you: what results can you report so far, and what other results can we expect in the near future? Can these projects be accomplished, and who can do this?

Vladimir Putin: Actually, this is what we began with today, but I would like to thank you for raising this topic again. I consider it to be an extremely important and even a priority topic.

In general, we could have decided not to focus our resources and efforts, both administrative and financial, in specific areas, going with the stream instead and dealing with the current requirements and problems as they appeared.

But there is a different way to organise our work. I believe that we can and should pinpoint the main sphere where we must achieve breakthrough development, as well as the main goals in terms of global trends, and we must decide what we must do and what we must strive for to improve the standard of living for our people.

I would like to repeat that this is the key element of all our national projects, and this is what they are intended to attain. The main thing is, as I have already said and will probably say it several times more today, the main thing is to restructure our economy, to create a high-tech digital economy with elements of artificial intelligence, develop unmanned vehicles, develop infrastructure.

What is our goal? The goal is to boost labour productivity as the basis for ensuring the growth in prosperity for the people. This job has been split up into several areas, with the required financing for each of them, including roads (we have calculated that we need 6.5 trillion rubles until 2024 for that), healthcare, education, science and so on.

There are indicators we must strive for in each area. Of course, we will also assess the results of our efforts. I will gauge the work of my colleagues by our progress towards this goal.

We will do so this year, next year and every year until 2024. Our job will not be finished after that, of course, but we must have check points and adjust our work accordingly. In principle, I believe that everyone has been working hard.

Pavel Zarubin: When will the people feel the first results of national projects?

Vladimir Putin: This is not the case… In the Soviet era, they used to say that today’s generation of Soviet people will live under communism. Nobody could understand what “today’s generation” meant. Later it was said that the 1980 Olympic Games were held in Moscow instead of communism.

We should feel the results now, this year, next year and so on. This must be reflected in the level of incomes and wages. We can see that there are problems, but I am showing that there are positive trends as well. This is the first point.

Secondly, about the issues we were discussing just now, healthcare, and we have not spoken about science and education yet; money must be invested and is being invested there.

And as I have said, at the first stage we knowingly allowed some negative external factors, but this made it possible for us to concentrate our resources, allocate them where we need them, and achieve results and breakthroughs in the end. This is the idea of the work done within national projects.

Pavel Zarubin: When you recently had a meeting with the Cabinet on the subject of national projects, many ministers looked dejected.

This is why I would like to read out a message from Tatyana Pinchuk: “Are the ministers personally responsible for failure to implement the national projects they supervise?”

Vladimir Putin: I do not think they were dejected. Let’s say they were concentrating and thinking about how to fulfil their tasks. Speaking about personal responsibility, yes, I have said this before – but I do not remember if the cameras were on and if it were in the media or not – but everybody, all of my colleagues know that personal responsibility is essential, and everyone who supervises one area or another is responsible for it.

Pavel Zarubin: One more flashpoint, the so-called trash reform: rates, landfill sites and processing.

Tatyana Remezova, go ahead please.

Tatyana Remezova: Thank you, colleagues. This year trash-related issues have literally skyrocketed into the top three most frequently asked questions. I will now ask our director to show on the big screen several photos that were sent by viewers. Some photos came from the village of Pokrovskoye in the Rostov Region. Kseniya Bobyatinskaya writes: “What is happening with the trash reform? We are drowning in trash. Nobody takes it away from the streets for weeks.” Yes, you have just seen these photos.

Alexander Repin from the Nizhny Novgorod Region: “The trash reform has been going on for over five months but people have hardly noticed any changes for the better: containers are the same, full of holes, and trash pickup is irregular.”

Verkhnyaya Salda, Sverdlovsk Region: “The trash reform is not working. This is what a clean city district has turned into in six months.” It is clear from the questionaries that all these photos were sent by young people under 35.

Blogger Katya Adushkina has just got through to us. We will try to connect her. She is a popular instablogger and has run her blog since she was 10. She is 15 now and has over 8 million followers. Here is Katya. Apart from her vlog, Katya records musical clips and has tens of thousands of clicks across various internet platforms. Hello, Katya, we are listening to you. Your question, please.

Yekaterina Adushkina: Good afternoon, Mr President. My name is Katya Adushkina. I am 15 and a video blogger. I am also a fan of music and dance. Like all school kids in the world I am very concerned that the environmental problems are getting worse.

Now containers for separating trash have started to appear in Russia but people complain online that ultimately all the trash goes into one heap. How will you deal with this problem and do you have any plans to solve it?

Vladimir Putin: This is a huge problem for us. It did not emerge yesterday We have spoken about it and returned to it many times. By the way, we started discussing and dealing with it literally two or three years ago. Strange as it may seem, it was all sparked by Direct Line one year. I recall people from Balashikha complained about their predicament. After that I sent a signal to my colleagues in the regions and the Government. They began talking about it and made it a subject of discussion and attention for all levels of government. It became clear that trash, waste products, had been piling up for decades and nobody ever tackled this problem seriously.

I want to point out (experts know this, but ordinary people may not) that we generate 70 million tonnes of waste each year, 70 million. There is, in fact, no industrial recycling of this waste. This is a huge problem, considering that landfill sites have been growing since the Soviet era.

The situation is complicated by the fact that our society has largely become a society of consumption, despite the fact that real wages had been going down in the past years but are rising now. Nevertheless, our society is based on consumption, generally speaking. New packaging is used now; in addition to paper and cardboard, a lot of plastic is used for packaging, too. There are entire islands of trash as big as an average European country in the Pacific Ocean. The lens effect is already impacting the climate of the entire planet. It is a big problem for us, and this is why we will work on this, of course.

What was shown just now is horrible. We must see in which districts or Russian regions this is happening.

Trash pickup tariffs are growing. As you noted, yesterday, I looked through the questions for today’s Direct Line. There are many questions about growing tariffs. Perhaps it is inevitable to some extent, because at least some starter money is necessary to carry out system-wide work. Of course, people should see results, and this is not a case where we must wait for 20 years. These are the results people should feel right now.

Recently we made a decision; I have agreed to let governors choose who will work at these container yards: managing companies in charge of a corresponding residential building or neighbourhood, or so-called regional operators. Some people believe that regional operators will not be able to reach these yards, and others think it would be better to place all the responsibility in one set of hands.

To tell the truth, it makes no difference to me, but many governors believe that it would be better to use regional operators. They are free to. Of course, we must examine these pictures and find out where they came from. There are many things like this. I hope that we will manage to do this and clean up there soon. And of course, I will keep an eye on this, even if trash is not exactly the most glamorous topic.

Pavel Zarubin: Tatyana, another call please.

Tatyana Remezova: Mr President, you mentioned tariffs, so let us talk about it in more detail, because we have a lot of questions on this particular topic.

Retired people especially have been completely bewildered by the bills they began receiving after January 1. Let us now listen to a video message from Roman Dmitriyev from Omsk.

Roman Dmitriyev: Trash reform has begun, but there has been no progress in areas with single-family homes like the ​​Old Kirovsk neighbourhood we live in.

These are my bills, I am holding them in my hand. For March – that is, before the trash reform – we paid 90.27 rubles per month. It went like this: once a month, on the 20th, they brought a large container to my street, for all the people who live on this street to dump the trash they have been accumulating in their courtyards.

After the start of the trash reform, the process did not change in any way, but the bill did change: in April, they charged us 133 rubles, and the one we got the day before yesterday was 266 rubles! Why is this reform proceeding on paper, when there is no real progress?

Vladimir Putin: I cannot but agree with Roman that this not only raises questions and eyebrows, but also inspires protest. And, of course, it goes without saying that it should not be like this.

On the other hand, there are some things we need to note. For example, in the past, no one had ever thought of how much trash removal costs. This is the first point.

Secondly, today nobody wants to have any landfills near where they live, which means trash has to be transported far away, and this also means money, the cost of transport, the fuel that must be used, drivers’ pay, and so on and so forth.

This is to say that trash removal may indeed be more expensive now, but what Roman said, of course, requires additional verification and careful analysis.

And again, the most important thing is to find the responsible party: it’s either the managing company or the regional operator. This certainly needs to be done. In this case, we need to check. I will definitely ask the Federal Anti-Monopoly Service to deal with this.

Yelena Vinnik: People do not want to have a landfill site near their place. We have had a lot of messages from the regions, and we are left with a vicious circle: on the one hand, people do not want landfills near where they live; on the other hand, we cannot do without landfills, not when the problem has been snowballing for decades. Is there any long-term waste recycling programme in our country? Will there be one?

Vladimir Putin: We have a programme planned for the next few years, which envisages the construction of 200 waste processing plants. The total amount of funding is slightly above 300 billion rubles, with about one third of the amount coming from the federal budget, and the remaining funds need to be raised from businesses. The government part has been budgeted, and we will duly provide the financing.

Yelena Vinnik: Mr President, important decisions to support large families have been adopted this year. I am a mother of four children, so I follow closely…

Vladimir Putin: Here: “Can child benefit payments be extended up to three years?”

Yelena Vinnik: Yes, this must be done, and tangible support has been approved.

But we also have proposals coming from large families: For instance: “Can the programme of state support of mortgage lending for large families with a 6 percent interest rate be extended to include the secondary housing market? Because currently the programme covers only the primary housing market.”

Or another one: ‘Can 450,000 rubles allocated to families that are classified as large as of January 1, 2019, be used as a down payment to buy housing, because it is impossible to take out a mortgage without a down payment, and saving the amount is simply too difficult?’

Vladimir Putin: Shall be start with the question about six percent?

Yelena Vinnik: Yes.

Vladimir Putin: Six percent interest rate for a mortgage. Well, what is happening here and what happened? Indeed, there was such a decision, my instruction for families with children, moreover for families where the second and third child is born: a mortgage on beneficial terms with a six percent interest rate must be ensured. Can it be even lower? It can and this is already being done in the Far East, where the rate is five percent.

What happened with these 6 percent? I saw a lot of messages on the topic in the stack of questions that I looked through yesterday, the day before yesterday and three days ago,. It is difficult for people to resolve this, or the problem is not solved with banks regarding the 6 percent: it does not apply to the loans issued previously.

Yelena Vinnik: They do not recalculate the loans; they do not want to do it.

Vladimir Putin: They do not recalculate. This is a real mistake of the Russian Government and the relevant agencies. What is the mistake? The Finance Ministry did not allocate sufficient funds to compensate banks for this subsidy objectives. They initially decided that 2 percent will be enough. It is not.

So this problem needs to be addressed through two channels: through the Finance Ministry, which should work with large banks, such as Sberbank and VTB, and through the DOM.RF state company (they work with small and medium-sized banks).

The reason it was not resolved through either channel is that the Government did not allocate the necessary resources. But even before Direct Line, after I looked through the questions, I spoke with Government members, including the Finance Ministry leadership, and in principle, this problem has already been solved. The Finance Ministry has allocated the necessary resources, and I hope that in the near future there will be progress and we will see tangible results.

As for the 450,000-ruble benefit for the repayment of a family’s mortgage loan upon birth of their third child. What can be said here, we provided it specifically for this purpose, and this alone, because this sphere of life, especially for families with children, is the most important, the most sensitive one.

By the way, the maternity capital, as we look at the statistics of its use, is mainly being spent to improve housing conditions. We launched the programme precisely for this purpose, and we will do it retroactively from January 1, 2019, and that is why it is not provided for other purposes.

By the way, back to the 6 percent mortgage issue, this programme of state support for families with two, three or more children is valid from January 1, 2018 until December 31, 2022.

And I want everyone who is using this programme to know that, if they take out a loan before December 30, their discount on mortgage interest will be valid for the entire term of the loan.

Yelena Vinnik: Mr President, I would like to add that many people are writing to us that they should have waited instead of having a child in 2017. I mean, had they known that this programme would be launched, they would have postponed the birth of their second or third children. Indeed, there are such messages.

Vladimir Putin: This should not be postponed.

Yelena Vinnik: Well, yes.

Vladimir Putin: This is something that is not measured with money.

Yelena Vinnik: Let us turn things over to our call centre again.

Tatyana Remezova: Thank you very much.

Right now I have a call on this topic. We are receiving many calls from young mothers regarding maternity leave. It is true that the financial assistance they receive during this period, from eighteen months to three years when mothers cannot work, is called many things, Mr President: a joke or a humiliating sum, for example. Now we have Yekaterina Kirillova from Serpukhov. You can see she is sitting right next to her child’s bed, who unfortunately has fallen asleep while waiting. But the President can hear you, Katya. Ask your question, please.

Yekaterina Kirillova: Good afternoon, Mr President.

My name is Yekaterina. I live in the Moscow Region and I am on maternity leave. My son is ten months today.

I have been regularly receiving child care benefit paid until the child turns 18 months old. But when my son turns eighteen months, I will receive 50 rubles per month, so I have a question: are there any plans to change this sum, because mothers I know can only see this sum as a joke and cannot understand what purpose it serves. I think that perhaps it would be better to end it altogether and not spend the money from the budget.

Those who decide to go to work and leave their children in daycare nurseries face a different problem. Queues for nurseries are very long, and it is very difficult to get into one. Most children who get into them have some kind of preference. This is my question.

Vladimir Putin: Interesting. We have just seen this on the screen: a question about increasing support for families with children under three. Was that not your question?

Yelena Vinnik: We have received a text message with almost the same question.

Vladimir Putin: On the screen right now.

Pavel Zarubin: Our caller is not responding.

Vladimir Putin: Not responding, ok. I would like to say this.

First, it is true that a new measure of support has recently been introduced: we began to pay money to families with a first and second child. We have maternity capital for the second child, but there has never been a similar measure for the first one. On the whole, it is quite large, equal to the minimum subsistence level for a child in the region. On average – let me repeat that this is the average sum. It differs from region to region, but it is about 10,500 today, almost 11,000 rubles on average.

This financial assistance is provided to families for their first and subsequent child. The money for the first child is allocated directly from the budget; the money for the second can be allocated, at the family’s request, from maternity capital. And the financial support is provided to the family according to its needs, as they say. I am talking about families where one adult worker’s average income equals 1.5 times the region’s subsistence minimum. Our country’s subsistence minimum equals the minimum wage; it is estimated at an average of 11,280 rubles. 1.5 times the subsistence wage per person, how much is that? 17,000 rubles. Roughly speaking, 17,000 plus 17,000 equals about 34,000. This means, if the family’s income is 34,000 for two adults, today, this family is entitled to financial assistance equalling 10,000 rubles – I repeat, this is an average number for the whole country. This is the minimum subsistence level for a child.

We have almost adopted the decision at this point; we have talked about this with the Government, with the Prime Minister. The latter has recently delivered the Government’s report to Parliament in the State Duma, and said that we would increase the number of families provided with this assistance, with this benefit.

How? Starting January 1, 2020, we will extend this assistance to not only families with 1.5 times the subsistence minimum per person, but also families with two subsistence minimums per person. Essentially, this means, relatively speaking, two minimum wages: 11,280 plus 11,280 equals 22,000, 23,000 rubles. In total for two, about 45,000 rubles. If the family earns about 45,000 rubles, it is entitled to compensation equal to the subsistence minimum for a child in the region. This is on average 10,000 to 11,000 rubles. Not so bad really, I think.

Now to address the issue of the 50 rubles that I read about on the screen and that this woman just talked about while describing her situation. Indeed, this first measure covers children under eighteen months, while the second category, from eighteen months to three years, was left out. Not left out, but was granted 50 rubles worth of compensation. And the question was: maybe we should spare the budget such expenses? The thing is, this is not budget money we are talking about. In 1994, a decision was taken; a Presidential Executive Order was signed. The situation was extremely difficult, and employers were made to pay these 50 rubles. This money did not make much of a difference back then, and now, of course, it is means nothing – I mean, what are 50 rubles, really?

So we have been searching for a solution of late. I actually think it has been found already, in fact the decision is ready. We will make the payments, in accordance with the family’s needs, depending on their income, to families with children aged from eighteem months to three years, in the amount of the subsistence minimum for a child. The only thing we still need to decide is the level of income that makes a family eligible. Either one and a half of the subsistence minimum per person, or two.

What was the mum’s name?

Yelena Vinnik: Yekaterina.

Vladimir Putin: We can work it out with Yekaterina right now…

Yelena Vinnik: Calculate.

Vladimir Putin: No, not calculate, but make a decision. There is nothing to calculate, everything is clear.

Yelena Vinnik: Can we reach Yekaterina again?

Unfortunately, they tell me there is no connection yet. They are dialling again.

Vladimir Putin: It does not matter. It is important to agree on a benchmark amount to rely on in the future to give this support to families with children.

Look, if from January 1, 2020, we start supporting families that earn two subsistence-minimum incomes and have children under eighteen months, it means the programme will reach 70 percent of families. It will be noticeable.

On the other hand, it will be strange to bring the eligibility cutoff down to 1.5 subsistence minimum per person, once the child reaches the age of eighteen months – this would immediately reduce the number of families eligible for this support programme. So I believe – and I have actually decided this for myself a long time ago – we will have to extend it to all families with an income of two subsistence minimums.

If you go back to the beginning of our discussion, to the beginning of our conversation, a colleague from the Emergencies Ministry said how much he makes, even an officer in his position makes about 43,000, so such a family will immediately become eligible (mum goes on maternity leave and will not work).

Finally, I think that in the near future we will simply finalise this decision. We have one more support programme; it extends to regions with negative demographics, but there are already 65 such regions. There, families also receive a benefit in the amount of a child’s subsistence minimum for their third child.

We will continue this programme, but I would ask the Government to look at the regions of Siberia and the Urals. This is something to think about. They are not yet included in these 65 regions, but we still need to look at what is actually happening with demographics there.

In principle, yes, this is a new solution.

Pavel Zarubin: Let’s go back to economic issues. Many people link these difficulties with the Western sanctions. By the way, the European Union again extended them today. Sometimes, there are appeals to make peace with everyone. If Russia complied with the West’s demands and agreed to everything, would this benefit our economy in any way?

Vladimir Putin: First, what does it mean “to make peace”? We have not fought with anyone and have no desire to fight with anyone.

Second, what would this give us and what would it not give us, and what would we lose? Look, according to expert analyses, Russia fell short by about $50 billion as a result of these restrictions during these years, starting in 2014. The European Union lost $240 billion, the US $17 billion (we have a small volume of trade with them) and Japan $27 billion. All this affects employment in these countries, including the EU: they are losing our market.

I quoted our losses. They are tentative. Nevertheless, let’s assume we have accepted this. But we also received something. What exactly? First, we had to change our thinking (and we did this) to understand what we needed to do in the high-tech economic sectors and how.

Our so-called import substitution programmes are worth 667 billion rubles. This compelled us to develop even those areas where we lacked competence before.

I talked about this and can repeat it now. Say, the RSFSR (the Soviet Union) and new Russia never had domestic marine engine manufacturing. We bought these engines abroad.

It turned out that it was not enough to manufacture engines, generally speaking. Marine engines are a special story, a separate technology, a separate branch, and a separate competence.

We learned that in just a few years. We made our own engines that were not only not inferior but even superior to their Western counterparts in some respects. We also made progress in many other areas – for instance, transport engineering, power engineering, not to mention agriculture.

Look, if ten years ago I or anyone else in this hall had been told that we would be exporting agricultural products worth $25.7 billion, like we did last year, I would have laughed in the face of the person who said this. We would shake hands and I would thank them for their kind but unrealistic intentions.

Today this is a fact. Moreover, we want to reach $45 billion in agricultural exports by 2024, and I believe we can do this. Of course, it is still a question whether we will achieve this or not, but we must work on it; this is a realistic plan. So we were mobilised in many areas.

Now to the question of whether some things would be different if we give in and abandon our fundamental national interests. We are not talking about reconciliation here. Perhaps there will be some external signals, but no drastic change. Look, the People’s Republic of China has nothing to do with Crimea and Donbass, does it? We are accused of occupying Donbass, which is nonsense and a lie. But China has nothing to do with it, and yet the tariffs for Chinese goods are rising, which is almost the same as sanctions.

Now, the attack on Huawei: where does it come from and what is its objective? The objective is to hold back the development of China, the country that has become a global rival of another power, the United States. The same is happening with Russia, and will continue to happen, so if we want to occupy a worthy place under the sun, we must become stronger, including, and above all, in the economy.

Pavel Zarubin: But voices in Europe are growing stronger saying it is time to stop…

Vladimir Putin: Excuse me, but this is because nobody really likes this. We have lost 50 billion, and Europe has lost 240 billion. This affects many economic sectors in Europe, in European countries, so what’s good about it?

In fact, even though we have gained something from these external restrictions, personally I believe that it is better to live in normal economic conditions, going by some general rules that everyone abides by.

Tatyana Remezova: Nevertheless, today the EU will address the issue whether to extend sanctions against Russia without examining it, which means the issue was automatically submitted for approval.

Yelena Vinnik: Let us get back to our call centre.

Natalya Yuryeva: Thank you, Yelena.

Our Centre has already received over 1,800,000 questions, and they continue coming in at an incredible speed. Let us see where people are calling from. Where is this question from?

Call centre operator: The city of Kursk.

Natalya Yuryeva: And this one?

Call centre operator: The city of Tomsk.

Natalya Yuryeva: And what about this one?

Call centre operator: The village of Kaskara, Tyumen Region.

Natalya Yuryeva: They are writing there is no running water. The lack of running water seems unthinkable in the 21st century. Let us listen to this particular call: “Good afternoon, Mr President, my name is Maria, from the village of Kaskara, Tyumen District, Tyumen Region. Construction work in our village has been continuing for more than 20 years, but we still have no water. There are over 300 residents, many kids, and we have to go for water to neighbouring villages. But initially, there was a water spout in the neighbouring village, which was then dismantled. And now we buy bottled water in Tyumen. At the same time, there is a water supply system for the Tyumen Broiler poultry farm near us. We asked the mayor to divert some, but the promise has not been kept. Mr President, you are our only hope, please help us solve this issue with water. Thank you.”

Pavel Zarubin: Excuse me, look, I have an idea. Let us contact Tyumen right now and find a film crew there and send them to the village to see what is happening there. And we will return to this issue, we will contact them in the course of the programme. Do you agree?

Vladimir Putin: Wait, what region is this?

Pavel Zarubin: Tyumen Region.

Vladimir Putin: All right.

Pavel Zarubin: So, we are sending a crew now and contacting Tyumen. We are sending a correspondent to this village.

Vladimir Putin: However, I must say a few words. Tyumen Region and Tyumen is a self-sufficient region, it is a fairly wealthy region in the Federation. Very strange. Is this some extremely remote village or what?

Pavel Zarubin: We will find out everything during the programme.

Vladimir Putin: Fine.

Yelena Vinnik: Yes, because it is very strange that there is no water there at all.

Over the 12 days when we received messages, interesting things began to happen in the regions. Decisions were made even before the Direct Line started; the authorities began to stir and officials found time to meet and talk with people. The Investigative Committee started noticing some details.

Thus, for example, the director of an oil refinery already has been arrested in Belgorod Region; workers there had received no wages for a year. In Kaluga Region, there is a family living in a ramshackle home that, I believe, dates back to the post-war period. The house was found untenable in 2014. The Investigative Committee has intervened. There are many places like this in Russia.

Pavel Zarubin: Including the so-called “whale prison” in Primorye Territory. For six months, it has been a top story in Russia. Therefore, we sent our film crew there. As soon as Olga Armyakova arrived there, as soon as they learnt that it may be a topic for Direct Line, amazing things began to happen there.

Primorye Territory, Olga Armyakova.

Olga Armyakova: Good afternoon, Moscow, or more precisely, good evening. It is almost 8.30 pm in the Far East, already dusk, but do not let the darkness bother you. Our crew is on the coast of the Sea of Japan, Srednyaya Bay. It is unbelievably beautiful here.

However, we came here for another reason. You can see the marine mammal adaptation centre, the one called the “whale prison,” which the whole world is watching right now. Almost 100 belugas and killer whales have been living here for about a year. In these cages, you can see baby whales: they are very curious – they are trying to get a look at our crew – and playful: they tried to splash us with water several times, creatures of fantastic beauty. They are beluga whales, by the way. They were caught in the Okhotsk Sea “for scientific and educational purposes.” This is the official wording.

However, later it was reported that they want to sell the animals abroad. Surprisingly the business people had all the authorisations they needed, but the law had changed, and the export of whales was prohibited. It was the beginning of a difficult legal puzzle, and these amazing rare animals, belugas and killer whales, fell victim to it.

Let me remind you that the President ordered their future to be decided by March 1. Since then, expert commissions have come here as well as scientists from the Cousteau team; the entire country united in order to save the beluga and killer whales. However, there had been no breakthrough until today. It is an interesting coincidence or, in other words, the miraculous effect of Direct Line; there is no other way to put it. It is more important that right now two killer whales and six belugas are being moved to the area of the Shantar Islands to be released there; and this is, of course, an international sensation.

Our camera crew were the only journalists who could see the animals being prepared for resettlement. I suggest we watch a report.

(Video report demonstration)

This is just the beginning of a large-scale project, which, by the way, still continues. Even though it is raining here. Scientists will be able to assess the success of this special operation later. The main thing now is to get it done. Let me remind you that nothing like this has ever happened in the world.

Vladimir Putin: This is a well-known problem, and it is generally clear why these issues arise. The killer whales alone, as far as I know, cost about $100 million, so there are many “interested” parties, so to say, and this is why solving the problem is not easy. There are always issues when a lot of money is involved.

But thank God, some movement has begun. We have Deputy Prime Minister Alexei Gordeyev on the line. Go ahead, please, Mr Gordeyev.

Deputy Prime Minister Alexei Gordeyev: Good afternoon, Mr President, good afternoon, Direct Line participants.

In essence, the correspondent has reported everything correctly. I would only add that a special group set up by the Government has been commissioned, and we took control of this issue because we understand the public relevance of this problem.

The group is made up of specialists, scientists, representatives from both federal and regional bodies, Primorye Territory is also involved; we are grateful to the many specialists from there. Under the scientists’ recommendation, the only correct decision was taken, to transport the animals to their habitat, where they were caught, to their natural environment. The operation will take about four months.

We have instructed the Russian Research Institute of Fisheries and Oceanography to monitor and conduct this operation. So it will be done by specialists. Afterwards, when the animals are placed in Shantarstakaya Bay in Khabarovsk Territory, the specialists will continue monitoring them. The priority is appropriate re-adaptation, as was said earlier.

Mr President, we are working around the clock, we will conduct daily monitoring. The operation is indeed unusual but very interesting, and it is also a fairly interesting scientific experiment at the same time.

To prevent similar events in the future, so the mammals are not caught in such numbers, the Government decided to change the law, to prohibit catching them for so-called cultural and educational purposes and allow a small number of animals to be caught only for research purposes and for the people of the Far North, which is their tradition. This decision will be brought to the Government level so the public can take part in it.

Pavel Zarubin: Thank you, Mr Gordeyev, we understand you.

Mr President, we should have held Direct Line earlier, then the killer whales could have been released sooner, although it could be just a coincidence.

Mr President, we have a lot of guests here today…

Vladimir Putin: Excuse me, please. I would like to respond to some things that I just saw on the screen. These are questions of a political nature, so I do not want anyone to get the impression that we are dodging these questions. This one is quite sharp: “Where is this gang of patriots from United Russia leading us?”

I believe that when people take responsibility, including for making decisions that are not very popular, but badly needed by the country, it means that these are mature people who consciously chose strengthening their country and improving people’s lives as the goal of their lives, and of their political careers.

I would not call the people who were at the helm in the 1990s a “gang.” But I must note that during that time our social sphere, industry and the defence sector collapsed. We lost the defence industry, we practically destroyed the Armed Forces, led the country into a civil war, to bloodshed in the Caucasus, and brought the country to the verge of losing sovereignty and collapse – I have to put this bluntly.

I would not say that all people who worked in the 1990s are responsible for this, but surely, if this happened, there must have been those who should be held responsible for it. I repeat, I do not want to call them a “gang,” but such is the result of their work. This is about the first question I saw.

The second one: “When will the local authorities be elected again?” If you are talking about local authorities, if you mean municipalities, they are always elected. We do have an election procedure through regional parliaments (this is stipulated by law). This, by the way, is also an election, but, as a rule, leaders of municipalities are elected by a direct secret vote of the entire population.

Finally, one last question: “What kind of secrets do the Interior Ministry employees know, that they are not allowed to travel abroad?” Just a few days ago, I spoke with Minister of the Interior Vladimir Kolokoltsev, who also asked this question.

Indeed, Interior Ministry officials – maybe not all of them, only some – do know these secrets, but not all; ordinary employees do not. Therefore, we agreed that we would expand the geography of possible foreign travel for Interior Ministry officials.

But in general, still, Interior Ministry employees are endowed with special powers, and in this sense, of course, they are in a special position. They have to make an informed choice whether they want to work with these restrictions or not.

Pavel Zarubin: Absolutely.

Mr President, let us talk to the guests here in our studio, they have quite a few questions. We promised to give them the floor. Olga Pautova, please.

Olga Pautova: Mr President, I suggest we change the topic and move on from cities to villages, because today we have a lot of farmers in our studio. Maria Kandyrina, for instance, has a small dairy farm; her cheeses have recently been awarded a gold medal at an international exhibition in France.

Next to her is Boris Akimov. Back in the day, he came up with the idea of the LavkaLavka shop, where he would sell other farmers’ products; today, he is a farmer himself. He told us he was now growing his own variety of garlic and even producing Pereslavl parmesan cheese and jamon. Did you bring us some to try?

Boris Akimov: No, everything is back in the village of Knyazhevo.

Pavel Zarubin: Looks like we have to go there. They say their products are in great demand.

Vladimir Putin: Jamon is a Spanish product, parmesan is Italian. They are produced differently, using different techniques.

Boris Akimov: And now we have our own.

Pavel Zarubin: Is your jamon good?

Boris Akimov: So they say.

Pavel Zarubin: What do you think?

Boris Akimov: I am not one to brag. But seems like it.

Pavel Zarubin: Then tell us about your problems and ask the President your question.

Boris Akimov: Today, the government provides way more assistance to agribusiness holding companies than to farmers, about 90 percent of all assistance is provided to the 10 largest Russian companies.

Meanwhile, these companies’ profits do not stay local, but are rather in Moscow, or, even more often, abroad, in offshore accounts. While small farmers, small businesses invest in the areas where they live and work, thus becoming a driver of local development.

I believe we have a concrete suggestion on how these priorities could be adjusted somewhat. Europe has a great example of promoting regional products. Take, for instance, again, parmesan, or Parma ham, or champagne. They serve as drivers for these areas, providing a great number of farmers and small businesses with jobs.

Our idea is to launch a similar programme for making regional products in Russia. I am sure this would give many farmers and small businesses a boost, while the local area would start developing as well; good for farmers, good for consumers, too.

Yelena Vinnik: So what is your question then?

Vladimir Putin: Will they develop well, by the way?

Boris Akimov: Basically, this is the suggestion: we have many regional brands that are often forgotten. Take the Breitovo garlic that I grow, for instance, or Pavlovo chickens, or Murom cucumbers.

In other words, there are many products that can be revived and become the drivers of the development of this territory. It would be great to extend this programme to the entire country.

Vladimir Putin: Once again, please, what programme? Can you please explain?

Boris Akimov: A programme to develop products of local, territorial origin. There is a place called Pavlovo in Nizhny Novgorod Region. At one time, it was famous for its Pavlovo chicken breed. These chickens were famous.

Today, every region has many interesting products that could be revived, that could become economic drivers in their territories. They would create jobs and farmers would be employed.

Vladimir Putin: So, you are talking about the development of local brands, so to speak.

Boris Akimov: Yes, the development of product brands.

Vladimir Putin: I see. We basically have, say, Vologda butter that is well-known at least in the country and maybe even abroad. So, generally, this has not been lost.

I fully agree with you that the state and the media should help with this, although the media will want us to pay and then they will promote whatever we want. But, of course, the state should provide support.

At the same time, I think what you said about farmers and large farms are repercussions of the debates on what the state should primarily focus on. And I agree with you. I know about these debates and I know who pushed for this. I am just kidding.

Jokes aside, this is the former governor of Krasnodar Territory, Alexander Tkachyov. He kept saying that large commodity production was a driver of agriculture and indeed, it provides the main commodities and this is true both for this country and abroad. But we should certainly not forget about small and medium farms, and I fully agree with you on this.

However, I think that you still have incomplete information in this respect. What do I mean? Look, first, the amount of commodity production at farms recently increased by 45 percent. Overall, this is decent growth, and it would have been impossible without state support.

Government support for agriculture totaled 254 billion rubles last year; this year, it is more than 300–303 billion. This includes export support. Of the total amount, around 45 percent goes to large companies, while smaller farms account for 16 percent. Smaller farmers, who are rolling out more and more products, today account for 12 percent of the market.

What does this mean? This means that the amount of support they are given is greater than their market. And this implies that the government is pushing them towards further development. If, as I believe, this happens, in the very near future, their share of the market will equal the level of support they get, growing from 12 percent to 16.

Here of course, I fully agree with you, the state will have to lend a hand and take the next step, especially since there are areas of activity where smaller farms are indispensable. Farmers, in general, are an absolutely organic part of the agriculture industry.

As for brand support, you are again correct; we need to think about this. I will ask Dmitry Patrushev [Minister of Agriculture] to draft proposals.

Yelena Vinnik: Mr President, let us continue.

Vladimir Putin: So where is the cheese?

Boris Akimov: There will be cheese.

Yelena Vinnik: Leave your address with us after the programme.

A lot of housing has been built in Russia in recent years. The shortage of housing is less important now and the issue has been pushed to the background by another problem – now there is a lack of infrastructure in new residential areas: there are no kindergartens, schools, clinics, or public gardens.

I will just read a couple of messages. Moscow Region: “Why, when building new complexes, residents’ needs for schools, kindergartens, or other infrastructure are not taken into account? If you need children, you have to think about their living conditions.”

Another one: “The infrastructure was never built. There is no kindergarten, no schools, and the developer is on the wanted list.”

Mr President, let us go to our call centre, there are many calls on this subject, I know.

Natalya Yuryeva: Colleagues, for starters, I will say that our call centre has just undergone a massive DDoS attack from abroad. Apparently, this is the reason for the disruptions in video calls we encountered.

But we have managed to repel it; the app was restarted and we are continuing to receive calls. The total number is already approaching 2 million.

We really do have a lot of questions about infrastructure. In Vologda there is a dire shortage of kindergartens, especially in the Leningradsky, Okruzhnoi and Gagarinsky districts.

Rostov-on-Don: a problem with the new Suvorovsky neighbourhood, where plans provided for gardens. They are now being replaced with high-rise buildings.

Voronezh, the Protsessor neighbourhood. There are many young families who were promised a school back in 2017, but construction has been put off until 2028. Which school will their children go to for the next 10 years? Who knows.

We also have a video call from Kseniya Bessonova in Krasnoyarsk.

Kseniya, you are on air.

Ksenia Bessonova: Good afternoon, Mr President.

Vladimir Putin: Good afternoon.

Ksenia Bessonova: I call on you on behalf of all the residents of the 3rd neighbourhood, who need your assistance for a school, a kindergarten and a park to be added to the neighbourhood. Over 70,000 people live here, in Solnechny, mostly new builds, and mostly young families with small children.

The schools that we do have are crowded with three times more pupils than acceptable. The birth rate in our neighbourhood was the highest in Krasnoyarsk, but the social infrastructure is a real problem. The shortage of places in our schools and kindergartens is estimated at over 3,000.

In 2018 we protected the area where a school and a kindergarten were to be built when we learned that residential buildings would be built there instead. The residents held protests, and the residential construction decision was called off.

But several months ago we learned that the city authorities had issued residential building permits for the remaining part of the municipally owned land in the third neighbourhood where a park was to be created. The problem is that there are no parks or public gardens in the new residential neighbourhoods, that is, in the larger part of Solnechny. Our children have nowhere to go outdoors. Please, help us.

Vladimir Putin: I see that Krasnoyarsk Territory Governor [Alexander] Uss is taking part in this meeting via videoconference. Let him answer your question. I believe that in this particular case he should say how your problem will be settled. This must be done by all means no matter how complicated it may be.

I would like to say the following in this connection. This problem has not appeared because of changes in the housing legislation. And it should have been settled a long time ago.

The example you have provided suggests the opposite, but such problems were usually settled in the following manner: when the construction was co-financed by the future residents, the joint development contracts stipulated the construction of the social infrastructure, such as schools, hospitals and kindergartens.

This does not seem to be your case, though. It is clearly the fault of those who made the construction decision at the local and regional levels. Even the regional authorities are not to blame here, for such decisions are made by the local authorities.

But, unfortunately, this problem will now become more acute. I am talking about this in order to once again draw the attention of the Russian Government and the regional colleagues to this matter. Why?

Because we are converting to new forms of housing construction linked with the decision to alleviate the burden on the people, the risks, rather, so as not to create new problems with unfinished construction projects. Now we are shifting this burden and the risks onto financial organisations, with state support.

I repeat, in the first case, equity construction investors paid for this, one way or another. In the long run, it was included in the overall housing costs. Today, the state, namely, the federal Government or the specific region and municipalities with regional support, are supposed to build the social infrastructure under the law.

This is what the law says, but they still have no source. The Government and Russian regions now have to create a legal system that would make it possible to build the social infrastructure along with housing, and that would also determine the sources of financing for such construction. Now, let us listen to the governor in this particular case.

Pavel Zarubin: Mr Uss, could you make it very brief? Will you solve the problem?

Vladimir Putin: Yes, Mr Uss, go ahead.

Krasnoyarsk Territory Governor Alexander Uss: Good afternoon, Mr President.

Indeed, the Solnechny residential area is far from ideal, and high-density construction is a typical legacy of the 1990s. It is located on the city’s outskirts and, to be frank, it has never been a high-priority area. At the same time, I would like to note that a school and a kindergarten opened there earlier in 2019, and I attended the kindergarten opening.

I was surprised to learn that land plots suitable for construction, including these social projects, were allotted to municipalities for commercial housing construction projects. If so, we will modify this decision. At the same time, I would like to note that the residential area is located on the city’s outskirts, so we will probably find an opportunity to set up a park there.

I would also like to say that this particular residential area is included in our Housing priority project. In this sense, modern urban development approaches can be implemented there, although it is impossible to completely eliminate the legacy that we have received.

Pavel Zarubin: Thank you.

Vladimir Putin: I am sorry, but I would like to address the governor once again. Please go there and talk to the people. Please see what can be done to expand the social infrastructure in line with this woman’s request. If you need any assistance, we are ready to provide such individual targeted assistance. I am confident that Krasnoyarsk Territory can accomplish this task. In any event, please report on this to me separately as soon as possible.

Alexander Uss: All right, thank you.

Pavel Zarubin: We had problems with calls at the beginning, so let us give the call centre another chance.

Vladimir Putin: Let me also respond to some text messages here, or whatever it is on the screen: “When will officials have wages like average workers?” You know, I have seen a lot of such questions. Let us imagine that a minister will receive the wages of an average worker. It pains me to say this, and I would very much like to… Do you remember this famous joke: “We should work not so that there are no more rich people, but so that there are no poor people?” I would like the wages of an average worker to grow.

What can be the problem if we simply decrease the wages of officials, ministers or even top managers at large state companies? We will not find enough qualified experts. They will go to private offices or move abroad, and in the end this will affect the prosperity of Russia and these average workers we are talking about, because there will be no effective decisions, no development plans, and no one to implement them. It is obvious that people should get wages according to their qualifications, according to their professional and personal qualities and, of course, according to the results of their work.

However, I agree with you that the difference must not be colossal. If we turn to top managers at our large state companies, we will see some peculiarities here as well. To tell the truth, I am also rankled sometimes to see their incomes. By the way, I have said this many times. But the thing is, their companies – and this is really necessary – have many foreign experts, and the level of their salaries is comparable to what the top executives get. You see, if we decrease their pay sharply, they will have a deficit of experts, like in healthcare, and the consequences can be dire.

Nevertheless, let me repeat that the difference must not be colossal. I agree with you. We should think about this.

Pavel Zarubin: Tatyana, a call, please.

Vladimir Putin: I am sorry.

Incidentally, in healthcare or education, senior professionals receive ten times more, and I am not even speaking about ministers, ten times more than an average employee at a hospital or an educational institution. Of course, this is unacceptable, and we must definitely focus on this.

Pavel Zarubin: We have a call. Tatyana?

Tatyana Remezova: Thank you, colleagues.

We are receiving very many questions and calls from outside Russia. Let us take a quick glance at them. This map shows those who are trying to connect with us via OK Live. We have calls from London, Paris, Zurich, Hanover and Hamburg. There are plenty of calls from Moldova, Belarus and, of course, Ukraine. Here are just a few examples, and some questions: “Mr President, you said on April 27 that the procedure for granting Russian citizenship would be facilitated for all rather than individual groups of Ukrainians. When will you sign the executive order?” “Will we ever make up with Ukraine? Will we ever restore ties with Ukraine?” A call from Odessa: “Mr President, will you visit us in Ukraine?”

Right now, we have a call from Kiev. They tell me that it is Ukrainian journalist Valery Shvets.

Valery, good afternoon.

Valery Shvets: Mr President, good afternoon.

Vladimir Putin: Good afternoon.

Valery Shvets: Do the Minsk talks have a future after the recent elections in Ukraine? As we know, Viktor Medvedchuk has left the negotiating group. He said he would carry on independent talks on releasing detainees regardless of the position of the new Ukrainian authorities. Has Medvedchuk contacted you on the matter of releasing Ukrainian citizens held in detention in Russia?

Vladimir Putin: First of all, we never lose sight of these matters, especially when it concerns the problems of people in distress, those who are in detention or in other places that are no better than a prison.

It is true that Mr Medvedchuk was involved in this process, both at the request of the former President of Ukraine and on his own. But initially he was charged with this job by President Poroshenko. It is also true that Mr Medvedchuk takes all these problems personally, close to heart. He has been here recently, when he again called for releasing the Ukrainian sailors who had been detained during the accident near the Kerch Strait. He also called on us to release several other people who have been sentenced and are serving their terms in Russia. But these subjects should be regarded as a package. Before addressing this matter, we must think about those for whom we care, including Russian citizens, who are suffering the same fate in Ukraine.

Yelena Vinnik: Mr President, we receive many questions through the social networks.

Vladimir Putin: I am sorry; I just saw a question from Yakutia, “When will there be a bridge across the Lena River?”

This is a question that the Russian Government must address together with Yakutia. This is an expensive project. The problem is, there is nowhere to extend this bridge and this future road. This is why we do not believe that there could be a return on this investment. Nevertheless, it will be necessary to address this problem as soon as possible in order for the city to develop.

Now an unusual question: “Where have the Chud people gone?” They have mostly become assimilated. Yes. However, I am sure that they have not disappeared completely. In general, we had many peoples living in the Russian Federation. Some peoples are still there, some are not, but this is all part of our cultural code.

Yelena Vinnik: Let us continue. A question we have received in the VKontakte social network, on the economy: “I would like to ask about the plans to further develop the Russian economy. Will there be a stronger emphasis on a market economy? Will we go back to a centralised economy or will we have a kind of mix, which makes the Russian economy stagnate now?” Vasily Buldakov.

Pavel Zarubin: I have a question from a text message: “Do you understand that we will never have a breakthrough with economists from the 1990s?”

Vladimir Putin: First, we have no economists from the 1990s. Where are they? Name at least one. Maybe Alexei Kudrin, but not completely; and he has also changed and I think he has been drifting towards Sergei Glazyev, because he wants to open our oil treasury and believes that we must raise the cut-off point for oil revenues. However, his own colleagues, his pupils in a way, oppose him and say it will result in inflation, and so on. Let them argue.

But we do not really have any economists from the 1990s. Some ideas, maybe ones regarding monetary policy, are there, we can see that, but the economic system of the 1990s is no longer there. Why? Firstly, we no longer have that level of inflation, which was over 30 percent then, neither do we have that level of debt, which went through the roof. We are not dependent on the IMF. On the contrary, our foreign exchange reserves are growing, exceeding 500 billion dollars by now, and they continue to grow. We have no debt – only, unfortunately, some isolated cases of wage arrears or failure to pay salaries on time.

But none of this is even close to the 1990s, when salaries were delayed for six months, and military compensations remained unpaid for months. Pensions were the only reliable source of income and even they were not paid on time. They were minuscule and were not paid on time. But there is nothing like that now.

However, perhaps something else is more important. The most important thing is that there is no such thing as a pure market economy or a pure command economy, but a mixture of the two is quite possible, as the caller said here, and versions of this can be found around the world.

In general, as soon as any economic breakdowns begin, as soon as problems arise, the role of the state immediately expands. But once savings increase, and the situation calms down, the state immediately withdraws from the economy. This happens everywhere, in all countries. And it always happened here in times of crises.

Countries with mixed economies actually grow faster than others: China, and partly India. In China now, the pace of economic growth is slower than in India, but still it remains one of the drivers of the global economy. And India, too.

What about the Western economies? Look, nobody there objects to strategic planning in industry; on the contrary, they tend to promote it. It is all there, so we need to keep it in mind and use it too.

But the main thing that we need to pay attention to, and yesterday we also discussed this with the Economics Minister, and I completely agree – it is motivation. In whatever system a person works, whether in a planned or in a market economy, it is necessary to ensure motivation. Only then will we be able to solve the tasks facing the country.

Pavel Zarubin: Let us continue. Natalya Yuryeva, please.

Natalya Yuryeva: Thank you.

We are now in our programme’s control room where the technical pulse of Direct Line beats. You can see how cramped and noisy it is. The staff have a lot to do. They receive all the calls, video questions and social media messages.

You can see how many people are now waiting for their chance to put a question to the President. We can see governors waiting. Some of them will have to answer to the President today. I suspect they all are nervous.

Guys, please tell us where the requests on this screen come from?

Remark: A young man from St Petersburg.

Natalya Yuryeva: And here?

Remark: A man from Magadan.

Natalya Yuryeva: Please, let us put Magadan on.

Remark: Attention, Magadan, let’s go.

Remark: We are on.

Vyacheslav Korchanov: Good afternoon, Mr President.

Vladimir Putin: Good afternoon.

Vyacheslav Korchanov: My name is Vyacheslav Korchanov.

Here is my question: the mass media regularly tell Russians about another corrupt official being caught. I recall Zakharchenko, the Arashukov father and son, among others; and Zakharchenko’s nine billion is a lorryful of banknotes. Could he really get them without help?

When answering previous questions, you spoke about sources of funding. I have a question: where do these billions come from and, most importantly, where will these confiscated billions go? Who will be or is responsible for this rampant corruption? As the guarantor of law, do you feel personally responsible for this mess?

Vladimir Putin: Firstly, I, of course, feel responsible for this mess. If I did not, you would not know anything, like it happens in some countries still, or like it used to happen here. You know, there is always an alternative. I am often told “Perhaps we can hide this” or “Maybe we should close this?” because there will be questions like yours.

I always have the same answer: no. If we deal with crime, with corruption, with dirty money, we must, firstly, go through with this, and secondly, do it openly. And we will do this and do it openly.

Where does the money come from? Clearly, from corruption schemes and from business. Incidentally, both sides are to blame here: one group of people steal and the other group take bribes. There are bribers and bribe-takers. And the law says so.

Where does the money go? To public revenue, to be sure. Of course, officials, and representatives of law enforcement in particular, are in a special position and they will always be under special scrutiny.

Pavel Zarubin: When you learned about those stored billions, what words best conveyed your reaction?

Vladimir Putin: Sometimes it is better not to say them out loud.

It is not a laughing matter, actually. In fact, when you learn about these billions, there are no words, at least none fit to go into print.

To reiterate: this must not deter us from fighting this phenomenon. Incidentally, this subject occurs in many countries, practically in all of them. Look at the United States, for one, where corruption carries 70, 100, or even 150 years of imprisonment. This is senseless, of course, but the work is carried out in a sufficiently tough manner – and in public. In this country, we will do the same.

Yelena Vinnik: In our country, there are also proposals to punish corruption with life imprisonment.

Vladimir Putin: You see, the thing is you can sentence a person to life, if he or she is advanced in years, but dozens of years will not make that much difference.

Pavel Zarubin: One has the impression that the authorities are stepping up the fight against corruption…

Vladimir Putin: What is important is not even the years of imprisonment. The important thing is the inevitability of punishment.

Pavel Zarubin: The authorities seem to be stepping up the fight against corruption, but it feels as though its scale is only growing.

Vladimir Putin: This is only how it feels. In fact, the number of corruption crimes is declining. And it is declining, I think, largely thanks to our consistent and uncompromising efforts. And we will continue doing this in the future.

Pavel Zarubin: We have promised to this studio before the show that we will give them the floor.

Maria Gladkikh, please.

Maria Gladkikh: Hello, Mr President.

We know that we are living in the Internet era. Actually, we are an Internet generation. All of us have smartphones and our phones can help us order food or cinema tickets, while the navigator will always show us the way. I see a good-looking girl in this room, who is taking steps in this direction.

Vladimir Putin: All girls are good-looking.

Maria Gladkikh: Right, all girls are good-looking, but this girl in a blue dress is General Director of the company Yandex, which, one can say, makes our life easier.

Good afternoon, Yelena. As I see it, you have decided to keep on going because there are so many things around.

Yandex Director General Yelena Bunina: Good afternoon, Mr President.

Vladimir Putin: Good afternoon.

Yelena Bunina: This is what I would like to say. Ours is a unique country. It is unique also because the technological services created in Russia are more popular than similar international services. Russia is actually the only country where this is taking place on the open market without any harassment of others.

But we want more at Yandex. We want to become an international high-tech company that hails from Russia, so that our country feels proud of us and the world admires our cutting-edge technological services. This is becoming possible.

For example, our unmanned driving technology is among the best in the world. However, we have a problem with regulatory documents. In the United States, 1,400 self-driving cars are now being tested on the roads, whereas we have only launched the first five. Our legal procedure takes too long.

So here is my question. Do you think our state is capable of taking our legal procedure one step ahead of the other countries, so that we can surge ahead in the new technological spheres and become better than anyone else? Thank you.

Vladimir Putin: This is my dream as well. But we should take the specific features of our country into account, as you have said. I love Germany, but you know the saying, “What pleases the Russian kills the German.” But it can be the other way round as well. Suppose we start using drones for postal deliveries, as several countries are already doing. Some people here could use this service, which will be expensive at first, while those who do not have the money will keep looking at the sky for fear that something will drop on their heads. No, any innovation must be well prepared.

On the other hand, we must accelerate to a breakthrough speed. I fully agree with you on this. That you have reached an agreement with your South Korean colleagues, who will create self-driving cars based on your “brains” and products, is a step towards making us proud of you. We are proud of you as it is; yours is a good company. As for whether others admire you or not… at the least, they respect you.

A few words about admiration: it is something to be wary of. Everyone admired Huawei and now it has been swatted, quite unexpectedly. Do you see what I mean? We should remember that, regrettably, unscrupulous methods of competition are very often used.

As for development, you know this terminology: we need to create “sandboxes,” and we are actually doing just this. In Skolkovo, a testing ground has been built where these unmanned vehicles are now broken in. Similar facilities should be built in other regions – and expanded. But of course, we must do it faster. Here I certainly agree with you.

However, there is something else I would like to emphasise, something you also just mentioned. You said that we have an open market, and it is not protected. But your company, Yandex, wonderful as it is, is successfully competing on our market with giants like Google. Yet, this is not without a touch of state support.

Pavel Zarubin: Mr President, there is another good question. You have partially answered it, but it is about summing up. How should life be arranged in Russian technology companies so that our programmers – who are the best in the world, as our young programmers have won almost every world Olympiad – feel better than in Silicon Valley?

Vladimir Putin: We need to create a system of preferences, and we are working on this, including tax preferences. As you may know, high-tech companies enjoy a preferential status when it comes to making contributions to the social funds.

There are other support policies, including direct support: competition for markets, export support and so on. Because we need our high-tech companies, including software developers, to grow from the Russian level to an international one; otherwise we will not achieve full success.

But what is especially important, and what I would like to point out – and here we need to think together with our colleagues from the Government – we need to provide a market for our programmers, especially in sensitive fields: governance, sensitive industries, say the energy sector, the management system, the financial sector, in our large companies – to guarantee sovereignty and ensure security.

And here we have to make decisions at the Government level, which would… Indeed, they might not be very market-based… someone has asked here if we have a market economy or not, or where we are heading. But in this segment, we just need direct Government support to ensure a market for such services.

Pavel Zarubin: There are many business people, and very successful ones, in this studio today.

Nailya, please.

Nailya Asker-zade: Mr President, as it happens, people in China are not only fond of Eskimo ice-cream that you regularly present to the PRC President, but also our glazed biscuits. We will hear this story from our studio guest, who arrived from Penza.

He sells this and other pastries not only in China but also in seven other countries, including Russia. He has a family confectionery factory. Let me introduce Nikolai Kuzyakov.

Nikolai, what issues concern small and medium-sized businesses today?

Nikolai Kuzyakov: Good afternoon, Mr President. I have one question and one personal request to make.

The question is about the oversight authorities. Thank you for what you have done and for extending the oversight holiday. Indeed, there are fewer planned inspections, but, regrettably, many more unscheduled inspections. Three oversight agencies conducted inspections at my company last week.

As a result, they will probably levy 100-percent fines. If they fail to do that, their higher-ups will say that the inspectors botched their job or that there is a corruption component.

Small businesses say that, in principle, it is all right that they come and inspect companies. But they should behave like instructors, assistants and mentors. They should help us and teach us so we could safely phone and consult them.

I have a question to ask you, Mr President. Is there a way to induce the oversight authorities to stop imposing fines or seeking out problems? Why cannot they help small and medium-sized businesses develop?

And another thing. We met once before and you said you would taste Vanya’s Sweets, when you came to Penza. This is the first reason for you to visit us. The second reason is that we have a strong ice hockey school. The city of Penza has produced many national players. You play ice hockey in Sochi. Our governor plays hockey, too. I have a dream: to play with you on a rink in Penza.

Vladimir Putin: Thank you for your invitation. First of all, I will answer a question I saw there: “Are you a Muscovite or a Russian?” I am a Petersburger. I was born in St Petersburg. It is my homeland, which is saying something, as I see it.

The second question is about text messages used for treating children. It would be better to know where this question came from, because it must be connected with a problem somewhere, such as an outpatient clinic or its absence, or even the absence of a rural paramedic centre or an outpatient station. Unfortunately, it is unclear where this question has come from.

Pavel Zarubin: It most likely concerns the collection of funds for a user’s medical treatment.

Vladimir Putin: We need to consider it.

“This never happened under Brezhnev.” No, it never did, but many other things that took place under Brezhnev ultimately led to the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Now to your question about inspections. First of all, there are scheduled inspections. We introduced inspection holidays, but the number of inspections held soared last year because the period of holidays was over.

It is logical that the agencies making the inspections augmented their plans to include the companies they had not inspected for several years. This is why we have extended these holidays for another two years. At the same time, the number of scheduled inspections has decreased by some 11 percent.

What can be done to turn the inspecting bodies and their inspectors into mentors, as you have said, or even assistants?

Actually, you are perfectly right. This is what we want; we would like it to be as you have described it. And this is what we encourage the regulatory bodies, including the prosecutor and tax authorities, to become.

We have proposed a number of measures, including the so-called mirror register, to ensure additional control. You have probably heard about this. If not, I will tell you about it.

The idea is that not only the inspectors or prosecutor offices keep a register of the inspections, but the companies inspected keep a register as well. In fact, this is what our businesses have proposed.

They will keep a register of who inspected whom, the reason for the inspection and their results. This information can and will be submitted to the prosecutor’s offices, which will have an additional source of information about the situation in this sphere.

Pavel Zarubin: Mr President, you said many times that excessive pressure must be lifted from businesses and that there is no need for excessive inspections. You issued instructions and directives. What do you feel like when your instructions are not complied with?

Vladimir Putin: Like anyone else who…

Pavel Zarubin: Where are the boundaries of your patience?

Vladimir Putin: It is not a matter of boundaries of patience; what we need is to achieve a set goal. And then, frankly speaking, I have answered similar questions many a time. The simplest thing I can do is raise a ballyhoo, kick out, fire and throw the book at somebody.

All of these methods can be used in truly outrageous cases, but I also feel responsible when somebody fails to do something.

Yelena Vinnik: Let us give the floor to our guests here. Again, I can see a lot of raised hands.

Pavel Zarubin: About the pressure on business, sorry, I will continue. There is a person here with us who has experienced this very pressure on himself. He spent several months in the remand prison before being acquitted. Meet Alexander Khurudzhi. And now he is also a public ombudsman for the rights of entrepreneurs who are in custody.

Alexander, your question to the President, please.

Alexander Khurudzhi: Mr President, good afternoon.

First, I would like to thank you for having supported me then. And the second point is very important. The number of people ending up in pre-trial detention is on the rise.

We have made progress in improving the business climate; indeed, a lot has been done, but, unfortunately, we have taken a step backwards, and a very big one too, concerning criminal prosecution. Arrest remains the preferred pre-trial restriction, house arrest at best, and, consequently, a business owner cannot continue operating, loses the business, which in most cases goes bankrupt, and people lose their jobs.

We have a specific proposal, and I know that after Titov’s report you spoke positively of it. It is about changing the approach to bail, making bail the predominant pre-trial restriction rather than arrest.

This will reduce the cases of partners or rivals “setting each other up.” So their number will decline from the current level of 12 – by the way, not a single person has escaped – and a procedure will be worked out to determine the size of bail in each specific case. There is international practice: it usually depends on the suspect’s financial position. In our practice, the alleged damage is picked randomly, and in 80 percent of cases the court orders to compensate a fraction of that amount.

Therefore, I have a really big request, as a person who is faced on a daily basis with loads of appeals from business people around the country to help them and give them a chance to be released on bail. So far, none of those released has fled.

Vladimir Putin: I would just like to say, you cannot run away from us, we have a long reach. However, unfortunately, they do run away, you know, and lie low somewhere abroad. And our so-called partners do not seem to be in any hurry to extradite anyone, even in absolutely obvious cases of criminal offences, let alone civil litigation. But this is a separate topic, and it happens that they do extradite someone.

You are certainly right to say that arrests should not be overused, especially in cases of economic offences. Here I fully agree with you. You have probably heard what I said in my Address this year, and this is exactly what I said then.

Can bail be used for pre-trial restriction more widely? Yes, it can, and it should be. Along with house arrest, or travel restrictions – all these options need to be used more widely, I agree.

Yet, it is not possible to exclude arrest from the options altogether – I understand that you do not mean that. But this way wealthy people would be able to avoid arrest indefinitely by paying, so that ordinary citizens now listening to us, and millions of people are indeed listening, would say, hey, this sounds like if he is rich, he can do whatever he pleases, then pay his way out and avoid any responsibility.

This cannot be allowed either. Moderation is needed in everything. And bail should certainly be more widely used as a restrictive measure, I have no doubt.

One of the main problems today is long remand. I have already asked the Prosecutor General’s Office and the Supreme Court to analyse the situation and make some proposals.

There are varying terms; but I would like to adjust these terms and ask both agencies (the Prosecutor General’s Office and the Supreme Court) to submit their proposals by the end of the year, better still by late November or early December.

Yelena Vinnik: Mr President, we also have a request from business leaders to streamline the application of Article 210 of the Criminal Code on criminal organisations, because this article is being actively applied.

Vladimir Putin: Yes, I fully agree. I do not even want to comment on this, just that I agree. We absolutely need to work at the expert level here, including the Legal Department and the Presidential Executive Office, and the Duma members should also think about it.

The current legal procedure prescribed by law is such – and by legal procedure I mean a statement of the essence of the problem – that almost anything can qualify as a criminal organisation, even the board of directors of a company, if at least one of the members has been caught violating the law. And this, of course, is unacceptable; it is an absolutely obvious fact and we need to deal with it and make changes to the current law.

Pavel Zarubin: People have recalled the 1990s several times today. In August, we will mark 20years since the tragic events of August 1999, when militants led by Basayev and Khattab invaded Daghestan. The local residents were the first to stand up to them.

Today, we will not ignore Daghestan, of course. We are in direct contact with our correspondent Alexander Sladkov in Daghestan.

Alexander Sladkov: We are in Botlikh. Hello.

This is an area high in the mountains. It is raining now. We were worried and wondered if we would be able to show the surrounding stupendous beauty. But the clouds are clearing up and you can see the legendary village of Botlikh below.

There was fierce fighting here 20 years ago. This hollow was engulfed in flames. After choosing this spot for our report, we saw shell casings under our feet. Everything reminds you of the war here. These mountains were seized by the militants. Interior Ministry special forces, now the Russian Guard, landed here.

This is Mount Alilen that was stormed by the paratroops; blood was spilled here, there were casualties, but the paratroopers took the height, and the infantry, the gunners, and the airmen were shooting. But the first shot was fired at the militants – there were over a thousand of them, they were international terrorists led by Basayev and Khattab (all sorts came here) – the first shot was fired by the local militia.

We have here with us some participants in those events, people, who despite the danger to themselves and their families, despite the possible negative consequences, took up arms and fought alongside the Russian police, security personnel and the military.

Mr President, they would like to ask you a question.

Question: Good afternoon, Mr President. We remember the day you came to Botlikh by plane at a very difficult time for us. In Botlikh, the local militia was fighting and defending their land and Russia. And now I would like to say the following. We saw wounded and dead militiamen here. But even today – I would like to tell you – they have no status as participants in hostilities. I would like to ask you, Mr President, to resolve this – not for us or for someone else, but for Daghestan and Russia’s future, for the sake of our grandchildren.

One more question. Do you remember how, in a military tent, we raised our glasses to victory? We were all standing next to you and wanted to drink up, but you said – later. Now Botlikh is flourishing; we have gas, running water, and it is beautiful here. Allow us to raise our glasses to your health and to victory. Thank you.

Vladimir Putin: As for toasts, I hope we will be able to do this with you. In fact, it would be interesting to find out whether our latest decisions on Botlikh, agreed upon during my last visit to Daghestan, have been carried out or not.

Regarding those events, they are in my memory for the rest of my life. I remember how the people of Daghestan acted. I remember how all this happened. I remember people coming to me… It might be unusual for the country to hear, but I will recall it, how people from Daghestan addressed me and said, If Russia is unwilling or unable to defend itself or us, give us weapons. I also remember a different situation, when the village heads came to our military – when the forces arrived – and said why aren’t you using artillery? And the Russian commander replied, your houses are there, it would be a shame to destroy them because it takes generations to build houses in the mountains. And I was struck by their reply: don’t feel bad, just do it.

And it was like this not only in Botlikh but also in other villages too. For example, I remember Tsumandinsky District where the local residents simply refused to allow these criminals to enter their area. It was the same in other villages as well; people took up arms and defended their towns, as you said, they defended themselves, their birthplaces and the whole of Russia against these international terrorist groups. These were international groups that were, incidentally, well-armed and well-trained.

The Constitutional Court has passed a ruling on this subject and said that the current law makes it possible to adopt a decision of this kind at the regional level. Well, I understand that the republic just lacks the funds. So, I agree with you and fully support you, that this decision must be made. This is a simple act: the militia members must be put on the list of the law now in effect in Russia, which will immediately give you and your militia comrades the same status as veterans of military operations. I am instructing the Government to do this and do it as soon as possible. The problem is how to compile the lists. But I do not think this will be too difficult. What I mean is that these people, thank God, are alive and in good health, and you will help us with it.

Thank you.

Pavel Zarubin: Let us continue.

Back in 1999, you went to Daghestan as prime minister. The country was falling apart. Several months later, President Boris Yeltsin resigned, shifting the responsibility for the country on to you.

Vladimir Putin: What do you mean he shifted responsibility? He resigned, and I agreed to become acting president. I had to do this.

Pavel Zarubin: If you could go back 20 years, would you make the same decision?

Vladimir Putin: I have said many times that when Boris Yeltsin offered this to me, I replied that I was not ready for it, that I never thought I would do this. But ultimately, I agreed.

As you said, and as the veterans of those hostilities have reminded us, the country was in critical condition. Had the terrorists reached their goals in Daghestan, it would have created system-wide problems for the whole of the North Caucasus and subsequently for the Volga region. This is something we must never forget. But we managed to avoid it; we preserved our sovereignty and territorial integrity, partly due to people like the ones we see on this screen today. Trust me, it was vital to do this then. What mattered was not the combat might of these volunteers, but their spirit and desire to preserve the country. It was a milestone, an absolutely key milestone event. I am deeply grateful to those Daghestanis and to Daghestan for taking a stand, then and now.

Therefore, the only possible answer to your question is, “Yes, of course.” Especially since we did this by working together and with the support of the whole country.

Yelena Vinnik: Mr President, let us listen to those who are here in this room. They have a lot of questions. Olga Pautova, please.

Olga Pautova: Many questions have to do with healthcare. You could see at the beginning of this event, my colleagues showed you hospitals that have many problems. People turn to these hospitals for help, they want to get better. I would like to look at this issue from a different angle: some 1.3 million people who seek medical assistance in Russia every year are terminally ill.

But this does not mean that we cannot help them. I will give the floor now to Nyuta Federmesser, the founder of the Vera Hospice Charity Fund. Thanks to this fund, the country has learned about palliative care for the terminally ill. Over the past three months, Nyuta has been travelling across the country and visiting hospices. She knows everything about the problems of palliative care.

Nyuta, please sit down and take the floor.

Anna Federmesser: Thank you.

Indeed, I have been travelling for three months now. This story from Daghestan is incredibly touching – just recently, I have visited Daghestan with the Russian Popular Front’s project called The Care Region – which is why I cannot help but digress from my question and comment on this. These people are absolutely wonderful.

In Daghestan, no one needs a reminder that people should pass away at home and that the elderly should be at home, that this is natural and normal, because everyone there takes people from hospital back home. Absolutely everyone, always. Even if someone passes away at a psychoneurological residential care facility that the relatives took them to back in their childhood, he or she is taken back home.

I have to say that I saw a similar wonderful facility with the Miloserdiye [Mercy] department in the city of Buynaksk; it had a wonderful warm, homey, truly Caucasian atmosphere. But at the same time, there is not a single home-visit palliative care service in Daghestan. They are trying hard to make it happen, want to make it happen and are trying to. We tried as well. I am sure that we will continue working with the governor and the authorities on this.

Just recently, a girl named Patimat was brought there from Moscow. Her mother Marjanat wanted to move there as well, but, let us put it like this, she stayed home in Makhachkala. Unfortunately, only after our appeal to the local authorities was a home-visit care service for her organised, because there is no such system there yet. We will work on it in Daghestan and everywhere possible, because it is very important. Thank you.

My question, however, concerns a completely different topic. When you run around the country like this with three key messages that you have talked about – that there must be accessibility, trained experts and medication supply. It seems that palliative care will become accessible, the experts will, hopefully, complete their training; there will be medicines, the money for medication was allocated, everything was purchased. But why is there such a great number of patients not receiving pain management, why does this suffering remain?

Because there is one more factor that does not deal with the healthcare system directly. This is the medical professionals’ fear of using opioid analgesics. The Interior Ministry says that there are not many cases of prosecuted doctors, medical professionals. Not many cases, but there are some, nevertheless. That is how we work, all of us – you make a public example of one person who is punished, and thousands live in fear.

Prosecution of doctors – medical professionals, not just doctors – is regulated by the Criminal Code, article 228.2, section one. This is a very interesting article establishing criminal liability regardless of consequences, whether any harmful effects followed or not, whether they were dangerous or not. This means, the drug did not find its way to the illicit market, did not cause harm to health, but a mistake was made in the procedure – a mere formality: say, the entry was made at the wrong time, with the wrong pen, the entry form was wrong, the ampoule fell down and rolled under the safe, and it could only be retrieved the next day.

When you ask doctors, “Why are you not managing the pain? There is a patient in pain there”, they reply with “You know how it is with drugs.” I hear this all the time. We held surveys via the Vera and Gift of Life foundations. We have been talking about this for five years, really, each time with another agency, and they keep telling us: “Yes, of course, we must decriminalise this article, we definitely must.” But it seems to me that we need someone on the inside when all agencies come together, who would finally advocate this.

There are other offences in the Criminal Code, such as 228.1 and 229, which concern selling drugs – and this happens, unfortunately, truth to be told, some drugs find their way to the illicit market. If the medical professional is the one to blame, there are other statutes. If we must prosecute medical professionals for formal errors, we will never solve the personnel problem that today’s Direct Line basically began with.

Olga Pautova: Back to the question please, Nyuta.

Anna Federmesser: My question is, essentially, a request. I ask you to support the complete decriminalisation of medical professionals’ liability under article 228.2, because there are other articles for those who really are guilty, and they must not escape justice.

It seems to me that for death to no longer be described in Russia as a “merciful release”, for people to pass away instead of dying in agony, one has to, unfortunately, appeal to Direct Line again, sorry to say.

Vladimir Putin: Yes indeed, this problem is known. You are right, decisions have to be taken. Look, if an ampoule with a narcotic substance rolls under something, as you said, it naturally has to be retrieved, if it simply rolled away. That is the first thing.

The second thing. Unfortunately, there are violations in this sphere as well; there are cases of these medications finding their way to the illicit market, and we must keep in mind that this happens. But you are absolutely right about the fact that it must not destabilise the entire system’s operation.

And when something obviously gets lost, it is not even about the ampoule rolling under something, it can even get stepped on accidentally; sometimes, patients get prescriptions not according to medical regulations – four injections instead of two or three, which is a deviation from the regulation.

And doctors must not be liable for this, you are absolutely right. But here, like in some other cases, the solution, as I see it, is very simple; it does not even require any major change.

One needs to keep a record of such losses or when more is used than the regulation provides for, in some document to be signed by not only the doctor or the nurse, but, say, a hospital administrator or the chief of medicine. We simply need to develop a system for reporting and record keeping.

And if someone tries to cheat under this system, or profit off it, this will be a criminal case that must be dealt with separately.

And Ms Golikova [Deputy Prime Minister] is on the line right now, she is listening, but there is no need for comment. I ask her to pay attention to this and take action, and develop a corresponding proposal.

Yelena Vinnik: Mr President, I would like to say a bit more about the anti-narcotics article.

Vladimir Putin: Yes, just a second, please.

Before we started discussing narcotics, I did not have time to write down the name of the village in Orenburg Region where a school has not been renovated for 50 years. Will you be able to find its name later on?

Yelena Vinnik: Trudovoye village.

Vladimir Putin: Right, Trudovoye. I will certainly discuss the matter with the governor, and, naturally, we will try and help.

Anyuta has discussed doctor training programmes here. This is very important for the sphere you mentioned and also in general. When we talked about healthcare, it goes without saying that, on the one hand, it is necessary to streamline the system for training specialists and constantly improving their skills. On the other hand, there needs to be oversight of advanced training programmes and this entire process. As a matter of fact, the Ministry of Healthcare is now dealing with this matter.

Yelena Vinnik: Once again, speaking of article 228 that deals with narcotics, many people have been sentenced in Russia. And most of them say that police had planted the drugs in order to prove their guilt.

Perhaps it is now time to introduce some amendments to this part of the Criminal Code’s article that stipulates liability for narcotics possession.

Vladimir Putin: Indeed, many people are sentenced for violating statutes on narcotics distribution. Moreover, people sentenced under articles linked with the illegal distribution of narcotics and preparations and their precursors account for some 26 percent of all prison inmates.

Should we liberalise this sphere? I do not think so because this country, our nation and our people are facing a tremendous threat. Anyone illegally possessing, transporting and selling even small amounts of drugs must bear the consequences for this, and there can be no liberalisation here.

On the other hand, we need to establish oversight of the operations of law enforcement agencies, so that they do not violate the law in any way, so that they do not arrest people for the sake of meeting preset targets, and so that there are no incidents like the one involving that journalist that you have mentioned.

By the way, the generals were dismissed for this, and I hope that the required investigative activities will be duly conducted to expose all the culprits who created this abnormal situation.

I repeat, the most important thing is that we need to establish oversight. Therefore, I will think about this, and I will have another conversation with the Prosecutor-General’s Office and the Interior Ministry. Maybe, the Interior Ministry’s internal affairs division should set up an independent specialised office that would monitor this sphere of activity. And the Federal Security Service ought to address this matter more actively.

Pavel Zarubin: Back to the calls.

A word from Tatyana Remezova.

Tatyana Remezova: Three new laws, pased this spring, have sparked a lot of questions and criticism, especially in the internet community. Here is one typical text message about the law against insulting the authorities: “Do the officials differ in any way from other citizens of our country? Are they grown in incubators, or maybe delivered from Mars?”

This topic has also hit the blogosphere. A popular social media person, a founder of the MDK project with 10 million followers, which is a big audience, Roberto Panchvidze, will join us by videoconference. We hope to see him on the screen right now.

Roberto, hello. You are on air, please ask your question.

Roberto Panchvidze: Good afternoon, Mr President.

My name is Roberto Panchvidze, I am the chief administrator and editor of the MDK community.

Since I deal mainly with young people and the internet, I will be more comfortable talking about things I can relate to and what hurts us specifically.

On March 18, you signed a law on disrespect for the authorities. Apart from the media, this affects the internet. In our country, the internet is more than a list of social media or services. The internet in Russia is, first of all, people. People who have a need to speak out, who feel a growing social tension, who are looking for a place where they can let it all out.

So they have been doing this openly and, most importantly, safely on the internet for some time. Now, because of this law, we all as internet users are in great danger. I would like to ask you to monitor the enforcement of this law and take it under control, so the situation with that infamous article No. 282 is not repeated. The prerequisites for this are in place.

Just a few days ago, in Arkhangelsk Region alone, this new law resulted in six people being penalised – six people – because of their comments in a group on VKontakte. One woman was fined because of her comment, I will quote it verbatim: “They’ve got some nerve!”

I do not know what the situation with the other five is, but I would say some clearly defined boundaries are needed, some line drawn between insult and criticism, so that people are able to fully understand and comply with this law, and the authorities will not be able to abuse it. Thank you.

Vladimir Putin: I see what this is about. This law is not about criticising the authorities. On the contrary, it should be freer; people have the right and must focus attention on problems, including those in the functioning of government institutions. This goes without saying.

The law has a different aim. It is designed to fight the desecration of state symbols; in fact, of our nation and each one of us, so that nobody could mock the flag, the emblem and so on. This is what it is about, and such things happen; we cannot let them go unnoticed.

Moreover, this practice is not confined to Russia. Many countries even have criminal liability for this; for example, it is punished by several years in prison in Germany. In Russia, administrative liability has just been introduced for this. There is nothing unusual here.

But something I must agree with you is that you are absolutely right that no one has the right to abuse this law in order to restrict people’s rights to criticise the current government at any level, by the way.

Of course, we will monitor this. I will ask the General Prosecutor’s Office to monitor this carefully. Enforcement must be in keeping with the spirit and the letter of the law.

Roberto Panchvidze: Thank you very much.

Vladimir Putin: Thank you.

Tatyana Remezova: There has been a big response on the blogosphere: four million views on OK Live 4, so the internet is with us, too.

Another blogger has just contacted us. It is pundit and author Dmitry Puchkov, better known as Goblin in the internet world.

Mr Puchkov, you have the floor. I understand you have a question about the law on fake news.

Dmitry Puchkov: Good afternoon, Mr President.

Vladimir Putin: Good afternoon.

Dmitry Puchkov: My name is Dmitry Puchkov.

The growth of the internet and social networks has destroyed many barriers that had previously stopped all manner of lies, and now anyone can, pardon me, rave and call it news: the end of the world is coming here in Dzerzhinsk, or a man was buried alive. It is a trend to call such made-up news “fake”.

It is well known that our people are credulous, often naïve, especially on the internet. Young people readily believe any fiction and argue themselves hoarse, saying, “I know it’s true, I read it on the internet.” While in the West, I agree, they even have criminal liability for spreading video clips. For example, they can get real prison time in New Zealand.

Here is my question. Isn’t it time to introduce stricter criminal liability for spreading fake news in Russia?

Vladimir Putin: You know, we did not have any liability at all. I think administrative liability was introduced, but the problem is there and becoming increasingly urgent.

You mentioned Dzerzhinsk but there are other examples. When we were sitting in my office, preparing for today’s event, the heads of our main channels – both Channel One and VGTRK – said they had receive calls about mines and bombs. But this is not limited to TV channels. Companies, transport facilities, shopping centres, including large malls, also receive calls and other information to this effect. Incidentally, this leads to huge losses and could trigger serious concern in society as a whole.

You mentioned Dzerzhinsk where information about higher radiation or something else are being spread. But I would like to emphasize right away so everyone understands what the problem is. This is not simply about spreading information but about the deliberate dissemination of fake information. This is what this law is all about.

Let us consider law enforcement actions, how this is being handled everyday and then decide whether it is enough or if something else has to be done in this respect. Thank you.

Tatyana Remezova: Thank you.

The DDoS-attacks on our call centre continue, but we are dealing with them. As you can see, the application works and we continue receiving video calls.

The law on a sovereign internet will also come into force in Russia on November 1. Yet another blogger with a million followers has gotten through to us now. He has created one of the most popular YouTube channels with 7 million followers. This is Amiran Sardarov.

Good afternoon, Amiran. You are on the air; we are waiting for your question.

Amiran Sardarov: Good afternoon. Do you hear me?

Vladimir Putin: We do. Good afternoon.

Amiran Sardarov: One of the main topics online today is the law on a sovereign internet. It may look as if we are again trying to isolate ourselves from the outside world with an iron curtain. Bloggers and users are perplexed. They do not understand why this is being done. Can you tell us honestly why this law was adopted?

Before you reply, I would like to say that my shawarma is the best in Moscow. I invite all of you to try it. Thank you.

Vladimir Putin: All right. Well done.

Tatyana Remezova: Everyone wants to feed you.

Vladimir Putin: He took this opportunity to promote his product and this was the right thing to do. But what was his question?

Tatyana Remezova: About the sovereign internet.

Vladimir Putin: About the sovereign internet. Listen, this is not at all about restrictions on the internet. We talked about the Chinese company Huawei. The US decided to restrict its activities because most of its servers are abroad. Naturally, I hope this will not happen; they will not figure it out, because this would destroy their own system. But if we assume in theory that these servers are switched off or their performance is affected, we must, with this and other cases, ensure the reliable operation of runet, the Russian segment of the internet. This is the goal that is pursued by this law. This is the only goal. No restrictions are envisioned. On the contrary, this law is designed to ensure the sovereignty of our internet and the opportunity for everyone to work in it: individuals, bloggers and state organisations alike.

As for the invitation, thank you very much.

Pavel Zarubin: Recently you signed an executive order to simplify the procedure for obtaining Russian citizenship, which many Donbass residents were long looking forward to. The refugees from the people’s republics can be spotted all across Russia, including Naberezhnyye Chelny in Tatarstan.

Our correspondent Yegor Kolyvanov.

Yegor Kolyvanov: Naberezhnyye Chelny, Tatarstan, is on the line.

We are paying a visit to the large Lyulkovich family, which is a blend of Russian, Ukrainian and Belorussian roots. Before we get acquainted with them I would like to show you this small room in a rented flat, which the head of the family, Vladimir Lyulkovich, refitted to use as a workshop. Here we can see work materials and toolboxes on the improvised rows upon rows of shelves. The thing is that Vladimir makes guitars – he is a master guitar maker. I think you will agree that this is a rare occupation. Let me introduce Yelisei – one of the nine children in the family. The whole family had to flee Donbass and seek refuge in Tatarstan.

Come with me. Yelisei, I know that you also went to a music school in Naberezhnyye Chelny but then dropped out of it. Why?

Yelisei Lyulkovich: We were having money problems, which strained family relations

Yegor Kolyvanov: That is understandable.

Members of the Lyulkovich family, please say hello to our studio audience and to Russia, which is watching you.

Svetlana, we are now acquainted with Yelisei, so please introduce your other children.

Svetlana Lyulkovich: This is Katya, Nastya, Valya and my granddaughter Marisha.

Yegor Kolyvanov: We already have a granddaughter.

Svetlana Lyulkovich: This is Jonnik, Jimik, Richik, Vladik and Dasha.

Yegor Kolyvanov: Richard,Johnny, and Jim – it is only natural that your father named you after virtuoso guitarists.

The family arrived from Dzerzhinsk – now, as it often happens in today’s Ukraine, the city is called Toretsk – in 2014. Dzerzhinsk is located between Slavyansk and Gorlovka. We all remember the news coming out of there in 2014.

Katya, please show me what you have here.

Yekaterina Lyulkovich: This is a shell that fell on the grounds of our school.

Yegor Kolyvanov: Fragments.

Yekaterina Lyulkovich: Yes, shell fragments.

Yegor Kolyvanov: The most telling argumentthat explains why the family has moved from the area.

Vladimir, you have been trying to get Russia citizenship since 2014, but, as far as I understand, you have not managed to obtain anything better than refugee status. Why?

Vladimir Lyulkovich: Because I have a large family. My wife had to apply for temporary refugee status, which practically does not help in any way because of taxes, so it is like a vicious circle. She had five minor dependent children and it was difficult to declare income for tax purposes. Do you understand?

Yegor Kolyvanov: Yes, you mean it was difficult to legally get a job to certify her income.

Vladimir Lyulkovich: To get a higher status you have to declare your income for the previous year. It is a vicious circle she cannot break.

Yegor Kolyvanov: Of course, it is important to explain that Dzerzhinsk was part of the Donetsk People’s Republic for about four months but now it is under the control of the Ukrainian armed forces, so officially it is not part of the Donetsk People’s Republic.

You have a family of 11 and you are not the only ones who came to Naberezhnyye Chelny from Dzerzhinsk. Who are your guests today? Are these people your relatives?

Vladimir Lyulkovich: This is the husband of our eldest daughter and his family, including his brother, his brother’s family and their mother.

Yegor Kolyvanov: Do you have the same living conditions here?

Remark: Yes, we have the same problems and sometimes they are even worse. My brother and I had temporary residence permits, and once both of us were fined and held at a temporary detention centre for foreign nationals.

Yegor Kolyvanov: Until you were granted refugee status.

It is clear why the family does not want to go back – Richard told me that at home they sent him call-up papers.

Richard Lyulkovich: Every two months our neighbour retrieves my call-up papers tucked in the door. They come and ask where we are, where we are hiding and who knows where we are. But we do not want to go back and kill our people.

Yegor Kolyvanov: It is clear why they are trying to enlist you in military service.

The problem is clear. Your living conditions here are difficult. The children go to school but, of course, you are not eligible for other social guarantees.

You can ask the President a question.

Vladimir Lyulkovich: Good afternoon, Mr President.

Vladimir Putin: Good afternoon.

Vladimir Lyulkovich: Mr President, on April 29 you signed an executive order on simplifying procedures for receiving citizenship for the residents of some territories of the Donetsk and Lugansk regions, who live in the Russian Federation. But this law does not cover me, my family and thousands of people from other territories of Donbass, who live in Russia.

We are asking you for help in receiving citizenship because, as you know, hope dies last. Please explain what we could expect from you.

Vladimir Putin: I have already spoken about this but would like to repeat it. You mentioned the April 29 Executive Order. There are also other regulations that allow Ukrainian citizens living in Russia to receive citizenship under a simplified procedure. I will see how this works in practice.

This is a regulation that was adopted recently. I already know that there is a problem linked with demands for certain documents that Ukrainian citizens can only get in Ukraine. Clearly, this is a vicious circle. It is hardly possible to resolve this problem. Therefore, I will see what adjustments and additions should be made to the regulatory base so that this problem is resolved in practical terms rather than based on papers that are impossible to get.

Mr Minnikhanov [President of the Republic of Tatarstan] is listening to this. I will talk to him to find out what else should be done to resolve this problem in your case, and as soon as possible. A decision on your family and the family of your relatives will be made quickly and then we will see in general what changes should be made to the regulatory base to make this process as liberal as possible for other Ukrainian citizens on Russian territory. In fact, I have already said that this is not even limited to those who are on Russian territory.

In reviewing this information, I came across many questions from Ukrainian citizens who are not on the territory of the Russian Federation. They are abroad, including the territory of Ukraine. To receive Russian citizenship they will still have to come to the Russian Federation. I can hardly imagine how they would be able to simply contact our consular offices in Ukraine and resolve this issue under current conditions. That said, we will try to liberalise this process and make it as accessible to Ukrainians as possible.

Pavel Zarubin: This question was received via the VKontakte social networking service: ”You do not speak with Zelensky. But you must understand that it is difficult for him; he is young and does not have enough skills. You could make the first step.“

Vladimir Putin: You know, we have just watched this video. I can say in this regard that he is a talented person. I remember his performance on the KVN comedy show in Moscow back in the mid-2000s. It was clever and funny. But what we have just seen is not funny. This is not a comedy; this is tragedy. And now that he has found himself in this position and has become the president of a state, he must solve these problems, especially as he repeatedly spoke about it during his election campaign and made it his core theme.

But what is happening now? When visiting Paris, he said he was not going to speak with the separatists, that is, with representatives of these unrecognised republics. Then how do you solve this issue? There are no cases in modern history when conflicts of this kind have been settled without a direct dialogue between the conflicting parties. This is simply not possible. Moreover, there has been an increase in shelling by Ukraine’s Armed Forces. However, during the election campaign, he stated that the shelling would be stopped and the blockade lifted. This is a direct violation of the Minsk Agreements, which say that the economic ties of the Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics with Ukraine must be restored. Nothing is being done, and the blockade is only getting worse. Making conciliatory gestures is the simplest thing to do. The Ukrainian leadership needs to exercise its political will.

Yelena Vinnik: Mr President, I will go on regarding our closest neighbour, Belarus. You have spoken on this topic, though.

Vladimir Putin: I beg your pardon, but here is an important question on the growing cost of housing and utility services.

We will get back to this. I will not go into detail, but I want those asking this question – and there are plenty of such questions – to know that they remain under the control of the Government and my personal control. There are limitations to the growth in housing and utility service rates, but efforts should be made to monitor compliance with these restrictions at the regional level. I will task the Government with establishing proper regulation in this sphere.

Here is a rhetorical question: “There is no way back to socialism, and capitalism has not given me anything. Why did they not ask the people?” To begin with, people were asked about this in the early 1990s and although 74 percent voted to preserve the Soviet Union (by the way, later on nobody recalled this fact for some reason), the RSFSR Supreme Soviet actually voted to dissolve it. These people were representatives of the nation and this is how they voted. Incidentally, as I see it, this question was asked by a leftist, maybe a Communist Party supporter. But who dissolved the Soviet Union if not the Communist Party? This is exactly how it was done. Both General Secretary of the CPSU Central Committee Mikhail Gorbachev, and his then opponent, came from the Politburo of the CPSU Central Committee. So what? What is the question?

Is it possible to return to full-scale socialism? I personally think this is unlikely, simply unlikely, because the country has changed. This is only possible through grievous domestic conflict. Do we need such conflict? I do not rule out that political forces with leftist views and socialist ideas can control the country and the supreme political power.

By conducting an open political discussion and addressing the people, the population, the voters, any legal political force is capable of winning their sympathies and establishing itself in the upper echelons of power. Will this be good for the country? I do not know because it is one thing to nationalise everything and another thing to make nationalised industries work well. These are completely different things. As for the elements of state influence and state regulation, they are present in this country anyway. This is a separate big discussion.

Yelena Vinnik: Let us continue about Belarus.

Vladimir Putin: Yes, please.

Yelena Vinnik: There are very many questions. I will read them from the website. When will Russia and Belarus unite in a real union state? There is a proposal to put this question to the people and even to hold a referendum.

Vladimir Putin: The question of uniting as a single state is not on our agenda today. The matter deals with the implementation of the treaty that was signed many years ago about the formation of a so-called Union State. This is not a single state; this is not the same thing. But, indeed, there are many elements there, up to the formation of a union parliament, the introduction of a common currency and the like. Some things were not done by Russia, Russia delayed them, and other things were not done by Belarus.

I have now agreed with Mr Lukashenko that we will return to this treaty and look together at what should be done from what was not done and what should be adjusted accordingly. Now expert groups formed at the level of prime minister and deputy prime minister are actively dealing with this issue.

Incidentally, much has already been done, for instance, on social issues, on the free movement of goods and services and on social guarantees on both sides. Much has been done but in my view, this is obviously not enough. We can and must do a great deal more.

Pavel Zarubin: Let us get back to domestic affairs. One of the objectives you set for our national programmes was to promote air routes without stop-overs in Moscow. We can see that things have started moving in this direction. They might not be moving as fast as we want them to, but the domestic network is definitely growing.

We are flying to Gorno-Altaisk where our correspondent Dmitry Petrov is on the line.

Dmitry Petrov: We are at Gorno-Altaisk Airport where an L-410 plane with 17 passengers has just landed. It made the flight from Novosibirsk. Indeed, the plane is small but quite comfortable and, most importantly, it makes regular flights to Novosibirsk and Krasnoyarsk; these are direct flights, not through Moscow, as was the case before.

The Gorno-Altaisk Airport was rebuilt in 2011 after being out of operation for 20 years. They built a new runway, which is one kilometer longer than the old one, a new terminal and a new traffic control tower, and they installed new navigation equipment.

All types of mid-range aircraft can land here. You can see a Sukhoi Superjet in the parking area farther on. It makes charter flights for one of Russia’s leading companies. It has brought company employees who will spend their holidays in the Altai Mountains. Closer to us, you can see a very small private plane.

On some days, the parking area is full because several flights have been added. Of course, people are enthusiastic about going to the Altai Mountains. This was primarily done for tourism, so every year new flights are launched. Russians who have dreamt of traveling to the Altai Mountains can finally have their dream come true.

In 2011, when the airport reopened, it handled 1.35 million tourists, and now the figure is over 2 million. Today, in June, campsites in the valley along the Katun River are full. Of course, Russians can now fly to the Altai Mountains to feed on the energy of the place. As for the local people, this means higher wages and new jobs.

You can see the ground service staff maintaining a plane. Many of them have only been working there for a few months. Let us ask them.

Good afternoon. Tell us about your job, please. What do you do to maintain the plane?

Remark: Maintenance includes checking all the navigation systems and fueling it.

Dmitry Petrov: When will it be fueled?

Remark: The plane has just arrived, and it leaves tomorrow, so it will be fueled tomorrow.

Dmitry Petrov: I believe airfare to Novosibirsk is 3,800 – this is a bit closer, and 4,900 to Krasnoyarsk. How do people like these prices?

Remark: They think it is a bit too expensive. This is too expensive for our people, of course. Wages are not very high here, and we have to travel a lot everywhere.

Dmitry Petrov: But it is convenient.

Remark: It is convenient.

Dmitry Petrov: Look, new routes are launched every year. Now there are five. This year we opened Yekaterinburg, Kazan, Moscow, Novosibirsk and Krasnoyarsk. Will you be able to manage 25 flights instead of just five?

Remark: Yes, of course we will.

Remark: Airport capacity is 155 people per hour, so we will, even if there are 25 flights.

Dmitry Petrov: And the local authorities, the regional authorities, of course, have plans to develop air links to remote districts, such as Kosh-Agach and Ust-Koksa mainly; it takes all of 24 hours of driving on mountain roads to get there, or only a 90-minute to two-hour flight. Direct Line with Vladimir Putin. Direct Line with Vladimir Putin.

And, of course, people living in Siberian and Far Eastern areas, where cities and villages are separated by great distances, dream about the development of regional aviation. Regional aviation alone can decrease these distances. And, of course, everyone hopes it will be like in Gorno-Altaisk: new airports with new runways, and new planes and, most importantly, reasonable fares.

You know, some airlines in Chukotka, Kamchatka, Yakutia and Khabarovsk Territory have set very high prices for one-hour flights, like 20,000, 30,000, even 50,000 per passenger, which is very high, to put it mildly. Everyone is hoping that the systematic development of regional aviation will improve the situation.

Vladimir Putin: Regarding this airport, I know it well; to tell the truth, it was built on my direct instructions, because the only way to fly there was from Barnaul, and this did not promote the potential for tourism. It is huge, really enormous there. And I am happy to hear that tourism has increased significantly. This is exactly what we wanted to achieve.

But with regard to air transportation, it is in fact growing, it has grown lately. While the fact that airfares or, that is, the cost of plane tickets is increasing, is not good. The government, of course, is taking the necessary steps. What are these steps? First, we have retained the VAT on all flights, including those via Moscow. And the VAT on flights that do not go through Moscow has been suspended – it is zero – to stimulate interregional routes. This is a good measure in general.

However, other problems came up. They are primarily related to expenses on plane maintenance at airports. And I also believe that the cost of aviation fuel is another big problem. What is the source of this? This problem really exists because the government has begun to exercise a so-called tax maneuver. In other words, we have begun to change export duties on oil and petroleum products with increasing MET taxes on raw materials extraction to compensate for possible losses to companies, and to stabilise the domestic market. It was decided to introduce a reverse excise tax, which means that some of the earnings from oil wells or increasing MET taxes will be redistributed to the oil refiners and thus the situation on the motor fuel market, including diesel and petroleum products, will stabilise.

But this was not enough, so the government had to react to growing fuel prices manually and quickly (the entire country was watching).

We came up with another mechanism: companies are refunded some of the earnings they could have gained if they had sold oil and petroleum products on the external market. We have agreed that this year the cut-off price would be $55 per barrel; and the difference will be subsidised from the budget, and if the price of oil drops, the oil companies will have to return the money to the budget, and the budget will be used to fund its own items accordingly, including social funding. Next year the price is forecast to be $50, I believe, for a barrel of oil.

Why am I going on about this, what is the problem? The problem is that these stabilisation measures in the domestic market did not include aviation fuel; it is as simple as that. Motor fuel was included, diesel and all fuels, but aviation fuel was not. Last year the price increased by 9.5 percent, so it grew by 30 percent for aviation fuel, and by 9.5 percent for airfare, on average. This has never happened before. Growth was typically 2 percent annually. And now we see almost 10 percent, 9.5 percent or even a bit more.

For example, 30 percent of the ticket price at Aeroflot is the cost of fuel. I have discussed this with the government; with those people in the government who are responsible for this, and I would like to remind them that this has been neglected and it must be adjusted. This goes for aviation fuel and for bitumen as well, because we need to build roads, and if we do not do this, the cost of road construction will skyrocket as high as airplanes fly, and we will be unable to implement our road construction plans.

Yelena Vinnik: Thank you, Gorno-Altaisk. Let us hear from other guests of the studio.

Valeria Korableva, please.

Valeria Korableva: Mr President, if you do not mind I would like to ask about international issues.

Vladimir Putin: Yes, please.

Valeria Korableva: We have spoken about sanctions today and there is a man in our studio who is living under them. Let me introduce him. He is the winner of the Leaders of Russia contest of managers, Yevgeny Grabchak. His question is about the leader of the country imposing these sanctions, Donald Trump. Considering that the G20 summit is about to take place, let us hear your question.

Yevgeny Grabchak: Thank you.

Mr President, I have been under individual sanctions for several years now. This is why I am so interested in international affairs, international diplomacy. The US President has lately been engaged in a strange diplomatic game: Twitter diplomacy. This is what my question relates to. He wrote on Twitter more than once that he would very much like to meet with you. Do you want to meet with him? And if you do, do you think the meeting will benefit this country in any way? Is he capable of improving our bilateral relations?

Vladimir Putin: Dialogue is always good. There is always need for it. And, of course, if the US is interested in it – I have said this many times – we are open to dialogue to the extent that our partners are.

However, we understand, we see what is happening in US domestic politics. Even if the President wants to meet us halfway in some respects, wants to talk about something, there is a host of restrictions related to the actions of other government institutions. This is especially true now that the incumbent President will be keeping one eye on the demands of the election campaign that he has already started.

So I believe not everything will be simple in our relations, considering that part of the US establishment is exploiting Russia-US relations, trying to catch something for itself in this turbid water and inventing, as was mentioned here, groundless fakes by exerting efforts that are worthy of better use. And on and on, always the same.

Therefore, as soon as our colleagues are ready we will respond accordingly, all the more so since we have a lot to discuss in international security and disarmament. I am referring to the New START Treaty that is about to expire and, in general, to the need to cultivate normal interstate relations in all areas, including the economy.

After all, US companies are not leaving the Russian market. They are working on it although the turnover is not big. But, as I have already said, under Trump our trade grew by $5 billion. It fell under Obama to $20 billion but under Trump, it increased despite all the restrictions and sanctions.

As for sanctions, I think this is a big mistake on the part of the US. I hope they realise this eventually and fix it.

Pavel Zarubin: We have been working in conditions of cyber attacks today; meanwhile The New York Times reported that US intelligence agencies are trying to penetrate Russia’s power grid. President Trump even accused them of treason. Anyhow, these are their problems, while we are left wondering if it is indeed possible to switch off the lights across the whole of Russia from inside US territory. Do they have such a switch?

Vladimir Putin: You know, the modern world is very interconnected and interdependent. I certainly heard about the article in the New York Times and saw the President’s reaction, calling them traitors.

I am not sure how we should interpret that – if it means that they disclosed real information or it was a planted story. But in any case, we have to respond one way or another; we must understand what this is about.

This is what I want to say on this matter. First, we suggested a number of times to our American partners that we should begin a dialogue to develop some rules in cyberspace including those affecting critical infrastructure and mass media, but we have yet to get any rational response from them.

At the outset of his political career President Obama seemed to agree with that but he subsequently did not have time to do anything about it. We also informed the current administration about it. The response was generally positive but it did not go any further either.

As to the operation of our critical infrastructure including power and other areas, we must certainly think about how to protect ourselves from any cyber attacks, from any negative impact. We are not only contemplating this but also addressing it.

Yelena Vinnik: Let us get back to our call centre.

Natalya Yuryeva: Thank you, colleagues.

Russia has made a tremendous technological breakthrough in modern weaponry – there is the new Armata missile system, the hypersonic Kinzhal, the prospective Avangard missile system, laser weapons. All of this is certainly very impressive. We are proud of these achievements, yet at the same time, it makes us worry.

We have a video call on this topic. The caller is Alexander Batrakov of Moscow. Alexander, you are on the air, we are awaiting your question.

Alexander Batrakov: Good afternoon, Mr President.

Why does TV show so many new weapons? For which war and with which adversary are we being prepared?

Vladimir Putin: Actually, it makes sense to remember what the ancients taught us: If you want peace, prepare for war. There is another famous maxim: Those who do not want to feed their army will feed that of their enemy.

This is what I would like to say generally. Firstly, Russia is not among the leaders in military spending. Look, the USA is way ahead of us as they spend, if I am not mistaken, $720, and now they are asking for an astounding $750 billion.

The People’s Republic of China comes second with $117 billion in spending. It is followed by Saudi Arabia, imagine that, which overtook us, Great Britain, France, Japan, and then Russia in seventh place in absolute terms, I think we are at the equivalent of $48 billion. The most curious thing is that we are the only great military power – and this is true – that is cutting military spending.

In 2017 it accounted for 3.4 percent of the GDP (that is a lot for us), however, in 2018 it was slightly above three percent, in 2019 below three (2.9 percent). It will be 2.87 next year and 2.8 by 2021. If I am mistaken it is only on the decimals, but there is a trend of cutting military expenditures. No other big country is doing this, not a single one.

What is curious and what we should certainly pay attention to and take pride in is that despite the modest military spending we not only maintain military and nuclear parity, but we are also two to three steps ahead of our competitors, because no other country in the world has the cutting-edge weapons technology that we have, I mean our hypersonic missiles.

This is something we should also take note of. This is a fact that should make us feel proud of our country and feel respect for the people working in defence and research, the defence industry, and for those people who are working to build up our military, who organise that process. We should take note and thank them for it.

I read another message here which states, and quite correctly, that the power of a country in the modern world lies not so much in the Poseidons and Peresvets or other weapons as in its economic power.

This is absolutely true, and this is the reason we organise work under national projects, so as to support our economic power.

Yelena Vinnik: I also have a message that is somewhat military related.

A young girl writes from Ivanovo: My name is Darya Rogozina; I am 13. I would like to serve the Motherland as a naval officer but unfortunately, girls are not admitted to the Nakhimov School, at least, not yet.

We have a different story in Krasnodar. On direct line is…

Vladimir Putin: I am sorry to interrupt you now.

I think regarding the Nakhimov School, a decision is being considered for the possible enrollment of young women.

Yelena Vinnik: Then we will tell Darya that she will have to wait.

Vladimir Putin: I believe a new location has been designated for this, and other things, in St Petersburg. I may be wrong but having said this, I hope Minister Shoigu will respond.

Yelena Vinnik: That is exactly how it is going to be …

I suggest we go to Krasnodar and our correspondent Pavel Krasnov. The Krasnodar Air Force School.

Pavel Krasnov: Good afternoon.

This is Krasnodar, greetings form the Krasnodar Air Force School, the military pilot training centre.

Here in front of us is a flight simulator combat plane Yak-130 for training. It is also called “a flying desk” for future pilots.

We all remember the lyrics of the song: “Airplanes always come first, and girls only afterwards.” But it sounds somewhat insulting for today’s heroes because you see these charming young women are cadets at the training centre, and they dream of the Aerospace Forces.

And many of them also hope to ask a question of their Supreme Commander. Just like that, because even though these young women are still cadets, they have already tied their lives to military service. So let us begin.

Hello, will you please introduce yourself and ask the President your question.

Alla Sankova: Good afternoon, Mr Supreme Commander-in-Chief.

I am Alla Sankova, a cadet at the Krasnodar Air Force School. To begin with, allow me to express my gratitude from all the female cadets at our school to you and the Defence Ministry for the opportunity to study and pursue the profession of a military pilot.

Will you please tell us if we will be able to participate in other forms of aviation besides military transport? For example, fighter jets or assault aviation. I think we are as capable as the men are.

Vladimir Putin: I think your wonderful, beautiful braid will fit in a combat helmet. And I do not see any restriction that could impede your service in the Aerospace Forces, in its various forms including fighter planes. There are no physiological restrictions for women, and I believe there should not be any.

The only thing I would like you to consider is assault aviation. The loads there are unbelievable. When I myself flew on a fighter jet, and afterwards on assault jets, I can tell you this: fighter aviation – yes, it now has long-range weapons, they are aviation complexes that require a very high level of professional training. Why can’t women master it? Of course, they can.

As to assault aviation, where a pilot flies as he watches with his own eyes the developments in a battle, it involves constant loads up and down, up and down. I am puzzled as to how men fly these planes because the only thing that moves is their fingers, they are so pressed into the chair that they cannot move their heads, cannot move anything, they only operate with their fingers. I am amazed at how they do it.

This is why I feel you must explore everything and then move to assault aviation. But, again, I do not see any limitations here. The specialists and medics must be consulted. However, let me repeat for the third time, there is nothing inaccessible for women in military service.

Question: Good afternoon, Mr President. I am a cadet of the Krasnodar Air Force Academy. Your life involves constant flying. How far do you fly annually?

I also have a very interesting question: would a woman be considered to be one of your plane’s crew members?

Vladimir Putin: Of course, she can, probably. But let me remind you that I use Rossiya Airlines aircraft which are not part of the Aerospace Forces. That is one thing.

The second, regarding the distance travelled. It is a lot, I do not remember, but from 2012 until now… It is hard to say, but if I count how long I was in the air, maybe it would be months of just flight time.

Yelena Vinnik: Thank you, Krasnodar.

Pavel Zarubin: On with the military theme. The situation in Syria seems to be quieter. Will there be a big deal with America?

Vladimir Putin: What do you mean by “a deal”? This is not a commercial enterprise.

Pavel Zarubin: These days, deal is used to call anything …

Vladimir Putin: No, we do not do deals involving our allies or our interests or our principles. We can agree with our partners on resolving certain urgent issues.

Some of the problems that we must address together, primarily with our colleagues with whom we have made tangible progress, that is, Turkey, Iran, and other countries involved in the conflict, and above all the US, are related to the political settlement and the formation of the constitutional committee, the rules governing its work and getting that work underway.

Can this be done or not? I think it can, given the goodwill of all stakeholder countries. I have already named them, but there are more countries in the region that are involved, primarily Israel, Egypt, and the European countries that are suffering from the flow of migrants and have a stake in securing a settlement. To sum up, we must pool our efforts and work together.

Yelena Vinnik: To continue the topic, one more foreign policy question from Odnoklassniki. I quote: “The US blamed Iranians of attacking tankers on the Gulf of Oman. Will there be war between America and Iran” – they are asking you for some reason – “and what will Russia do?”

Vladimir Putin: You said it – it is unclear why they are asking me. Probably because there is no Direct Line with my colleagues from Iran and other countries. We do not know the answer but of course, we would not welcome a war. That said, the US says it is not ruling out the use of force, either.

I would like to say straight out that this would be, at a minimum, a catastrophe for the region, because it would lead to an outbreak of violence and maybe to an increase in the flow of refugees from this region.

But I think this would probably also have terrible consequences for those who would hazard such attempts because it is very difficult to calculate what the use of force may lead to. This is very difficult to foresee.

This is because Iran is a Shiite country and it is believed, even in the Islamic world, that these are people who are ready to go to extremes for the sake of their own defence and the protection of their country.

It is hard to say what form these extremes would take and whom they would affect. Nobody knows this but it would be very bad for events to develop along these lines.

As for Iran in general, it is in full compliance with its agreements with the IAEA, which oversees nuclear technology. Iran is not in violation of anything and we believe it is unjustified to impose any sanctions on it.

Pavel Zarubin: A lot of hands are raised in the studio.

Maria, please, you have the floor.

Maria Gladkikh: Mr President, many topics have already…

Vladimir Putin: A young man raised his hand over there.

Maria Gladkikh: Yes, I will go to him now. He has been raising his hand from the beginning.

Vladimir Putin: Yes, yes.

Maria Gladkikh: What is your question to the President?

Ilya Kovalyov: Mr President, good afternoon. I am the head of the autonomous non-governmental organisation Investment Agency for the Social Sphere. We are working on several projects, such as Football Russia. The project includes building year-round covered arenas at universities and schools. For example, there is a school with a worn out football pitch. We build a covered all-season arena on this worn pitch. The budget is not paying for this, neither is the school, nor the region; they do not pay for construction or maintenance.

Over the last three years, we have built 23 arenas like this across Russia. After a while, we realised that the programme was paying for itself and that it should be used elsewhere.

Maria Gladkikh: What is your question? A bit shorter, if you please.

Ilya Kovalyov: So, we realised that the programme should be replicated. The Sports Ministry supports this, and the head of the corporation for the development of small and medium businesses Alexander Braverman found the model economically viable and supported it, too. However, later we found that there were strict administrative obstacles, in particular, in Moscow, St Petersburg and other cities with a million-plus population. This means that our contracts cannot be approved even at a low level, even though we are not demanding money. Mr President, this is what people at the lower levels are saying; I am not talking about top managers or governors: why would we need private investment if we have budget funding?

What would we like to ask of you? To see how this project is being implemented. We can explain and show how it is done in Moscow, for example, and how to support similar projects. We would like to cooperate with the Russian Football Union, or someone we has not dealt with so far, to work on this issue and do it in Moscow, St Petersburg and other large cities. This is our request and proposal.

Vladimir Putin: I will speak with my colleagues, with Mr Sobyanin [Moscow Mayor], the Acting Governor of St Petersburg and others. As far as I can see, the main thing for us is to provide for the continuous, high-quality operation of educational institutions.

You need to cover your expenses, which means that you have an idea how to use these facilities commercially. It is important that this use does not interfere with the operation of the schools or universities. But I will definitely speak with my colleagues.

Overall, I believe that this is a very good thing to do, and this would promote competition between schools. You know, this is well-developed in some countries: competitions between universities and schools. This is a very good area of work.

Ilya Kovalyov: Mr President, children in the morning…

Vladimir Putin: Yes, I can guess. Access is free in the morning and for a fee in the evening. It is important that the morning does not end at 10.00 at night. We should discuss all this with our colleagues. I will do this, I promise. They have probably heard this and will respond.

Maria Gladkikh: Mr President, let us move from football on to culture because of a major event of the week.

Practically all my friends, without exaggeration, have already visited the remarkable exhibition that is currently running at the Pushkin Fine Arts Museum, while I have been too busy with work to be able to, though hopefully I will make it before long. The exhibition features Sergei Shchukin’s full collection of paintings. Nothing of the sort has ever taken place before.

Vladimir Putin: Good. We will get back to the Pushkin Museum in a moment.

There was an SMS regarding salaries in emergency medicine. I would ask Ms Skvortsova to look into how things stand in the regions, given that the name of the region is indicated in the SMS. We must see what the salaries are in emergency medicine.

Please go ahead.

Maria Gladkikh: Next to me is Director of the Pushkin Museum Marina Loshak. I suggest giving her the floor.

Ms Loshak, thank you for such an interesting exhibition. It was enough for me to learn about it on the internet to get excited about this historic event. What is your question?

Marina Loshak: You know, yesterday we unveiled an exhibition that is something of a landmark in the history of Russian culture. The exhibition acquaints visitors with an outstanding Russian citizen, collector and philanthropist, who played a huge role in the textile business and donated money for the upkeep of hospitals and schools, a man whose name is celebrated in Russian history.

His home is located close to our museum. It was formerly the palace of the Trubetskoy family, who invited him to stay with them at their home. Hanging on the palace walls were 50 Picassos, 38 Matisses and 16 Gauguins from his time in Tahiti, the best of Monet and the best works of 20th-century French art. The Shchukin exhibition in Paris three years ago drew a record 1.25 million visitors who queued at the museum from dawn till dusk and could not believe that the best works by French impressionism – the pride of the 20th century – were to be found in Russia.

As I speak now I feel that Shchukin is standing behind me and I am speaking on his behalf. His home is not seen as a cultural landmark and, in my view, it is very important that it be given this status. It is not important whether our museum or the Hermitage or some other museum manages it, but it must be part of the culture because it is a historical landmark in which we are greatly interested, as this is exactly the kind of memory that cements our society and our nation together, which seems very important to me.

So my question is as follows: can the dream of the director of the museum and of a million-strong army of museum visitors ever – I do not know when exactly – come true?

Vladimir Putin: Can we createa Shchukin museum there?

Marina Loshak: We can create a museum in the spirit of Shchukin. There are many solutions and options.

Vladimir Putin: Could you name one?

Marina Loshak: One option is a Shchukin family museum because all three brothers, except Sergey, were great collectors and benefactors.

Vladimir Putin: I see. Where? There, in his house?

Marina Loshak: It is a small house at 18 Bolshoi Znamensky Lane.

Maria Gladkikh: This building belongs to the Ministry of Defence.

Vladimir Putin: Yes, of course.

Maria Loshak: Since 1941.

Vladimir Putin: Yes. I understand what you mean now. I will go by what I have seen with my own eyes, if you do not mind. Is it the one on the right-hand side on the way to the Kremlin?

Marina Loshak: Exactly.

Vladimir Putin: Behind an iron fence.

Yes, it is a building complex that belongs to the Ministry of Defence, where Ministry of Defence departments are located and where communication systems were installed after 1941. This area and these spaces were developed by the Ministry of Defence.

The Ministry has been developing the infrastructure year after year, for decades. I believe people understand what the infrastructure of a military establishment entails. It is primarily communication systems and they are expensive.

Still, we can give them time to think it over. I believe that the first step could be to instruct the Ministry of Defence, and I hope the Minister can hear me, to consider the option of how the Defence Ministry itself…

Because the building is part of its premises and so as not to uproot the Ministry from its property and hand it over to the City Council or the Ministry of Culture but to leave it for the Ministry of Defence, it would make sense if the Ministry of Defence oversaw this work itself and opened a Shchukin Museum there.

Marina Loshak: We could also participate…

Vladimir Putin: Not only you.

Marina Loshak: We are very much interested in this.

Vladimir Putin: Under the supervision and with the direct assistance of the Ministry of Culture, with your participation and according to the Defence Ministry’s plans and designs, and so on.

The more so because this kind of activity seems to be far outside the scope of the Ministry of Defence at first sight, though the Ministry has a department like the Grekov Studio of Military Art. Therefore, in general, this is nothing out of the ordinary and the Ministry of Defence is in a position to do this and can afford it.

Pavel Zarubin: Mr President, the producers are telling me we are ready to connect to the village of Kaskara in the Tyumen Region, where there is no water. We sent a film crew there at the beginning of our Direct Line. Let’s see what is happening there.

Vladimir Putin: Just a moment.

I just read some interesting information here. “Yeltsin realised at the time – it was written – that Primakov absolutely had to head the Government. Do you think it necessary for Mr Grudinin to head the Government now?”

Primakov did not have bank accounts abroad; he was not engaged in business. Yevgeny Primakov was an absolutely clear and transparent person. Therefore, before making such personnel decisions, as proposed, one needs to think carefully. A candidate will have to withdraw money from offshore companies – for a start.

Pavel Zarubin: Could you please show the Tyumen Region on the screen.

Artur Mikhailov is ready to start the videoconference.

Artur Mikhailov: Hello, we are in the village of Kaskara. It is not far from the regional centre, about 20–30 minutes by car. We got there quickly and had time to talk with local residents, including Maria Kuznetsova, who sent the video message.

Here is the problem in a nutshell, so that everyone understands. Water is available in Kaskara, but Kaskara is quite a big and old village, more than 10,000 people. So in the old part, the water quality is okay for drinking. But in the new developments, mostly low-rise areas, which are home to over 3,000 people, there is no water supply. People use wells, and even go to Tyumen to get their drinking water. This is rather inconvenient.

But local residents believe the solution to the problem is literally under their feet. We are now standing in the place where a water pipe is buried. We are here together. The local residents will better explain where it leads. They also know better how acute the problem is. By the way, the local authorities have just arrived at the site, and a debate is unfolding, of which we were witnesses.

I suggest we let them talk now. Everyone is present here – the local authorities and Maria Kuznetsova, the local resident who sent the video. Hello! The President can hear you.

Maria Kuznetsova: Good afternoon, Mr President.

We have a big favour to ask of you. Please help us with our water supply. We have lived in this village for 20 years, and we still do not have running water. They make new promises every year, but we are still waiting for them to deliver on their promises.

Artur Mikhailov: I see that you have brought water bottles with you. What kind of water is this?

Maria Kuznetsova: It is the water we get after four-stage purification. We use it to make tea. Look at it. Our children have to drink this cloudy water, because the only other choice is to buy bottled water or to travel 15 kilometres to obtain clean water.

Moreover, our village is located in direct proximity to the Velizhany water intake system that runs towards the Tyumen Broiler poultry farm. We have lived in these conditions for 20 years.

Artur Mikhailov: By the way, you can see the farm from where we are standing. The pipe is where the Tyumen Broiler farm is located. It is barely one kilometre away from here.

Pavel Zarubin: In other words, a branch pipeline should be built from the intake system. Is this the case?

Vladimir Putin: How far is the village located from the regional centre?

Pavel Zarubin: It is only 20 kilometres away.

Maria Kuznetsova: We travel to our relatives in the nearby village to wash our children and to do our washing.

Remark: The water is yellow.

Maria Kuznetsova: We have to sink individual artesian or other water wells.

Remark: This is what I would like to say. We have lived here for a long time, and every one of us had to sink water wells. They have promised to connect us to the water system by 2020. We would greatly appreciate this.

Pavel Zarubin: We see your problem. Let us listen to what the President has to say about this.

Vladimir Putin: Ok, I understand your problem.

Pavel Zarubin: There are members of the local authorities there. Shall we give them the floor?

Vladimir Putin: Please, do.

Oleg Podenov: Good afternoon. I am Oleg Podenov, and I live in this village.

At present, I get water from an artesian well. A new water supply system is scheduled to be built in 2020 or 2021. It will be connected to the new buildings of Kaskara. We are preparing the documents and discussing the plans. I believe people can wait for a year or two…

Remark: We have waited 10 years…

Oleg Podenov: …and then they will have clean drinking water. As of now, we are preparing the documents. They will be approved by the local legislature after discussions, that is, if it was not discussed 10 years ago.

Pavel Zarubin: Let’s listen to the President.

Vladimir Putin: Yes. What our colleague said just now is also relevant; this is important information. I take it that the village is not far from the regional centre – 20 minutes or 20 kilometres, as you said, but very near anyway. There is a water main there. Unfortunately, this is a problem across the country. Unfortunately, millions of people do not have access to quality drinking water. We have a whole programme to ensure that people have access to clean and quality water.

In this particular case, it sounds a little strange to me that the place is in close proximity to a large and self-sufficient regional centre. Tyumen is one of the donor regions, and there is quite enough money there to resolve such problems. I do not know if there is an objective reason to wait for a year or two to do this. Honestly, I doubt it. In any case, to build a water discharge system in the next two years would not cost that much. Let us hear what the governor has to say. Go ahead please.

Tyumen Region Governor Alexander Moor: Good afternoon, Mr President,

Vladimir Putin: Good afternoon.

Alexander Moor: Indeed, supplying water to residents of the Tyumen Region has always been monitored by both the Governor and the government of the Tyumen Region.

As for Kaskara, indeed, the village does have a centralised water supply. The supply system was built a long time ago, in 1974, when the local poultry farm was built, and until recently it was managed by this poultry farm. Earlier this year, it was transferred to the management of the Tyumen Vodokanal water and wastewater services provider, because water is supplied to Kaskara from the centralised system of the city of Tyumen. So today, anyone can apply for a technical connection, and this opportunity will be provided to them. The system is indeed quite old, as the residents said today. We are reconstructing the water supply system not only with government money, but also by attracting investor funds through concessions. Three years ago, in the city of Tyumen, we concluded one of the largest concession deals in Russia, for 23 billion, and now we are working on another concession, planned for September-October, involving the entire Tyumensky district – and Kaskara is part of this district, to provide not only Kaskara, but also other villages in the district with centralised water supply and wastewater disposal systems.

Pavel Zarubin: So when will there be water?

Alexander Moor: It was announced at a local meeting that it would be in 2020, and one of the meeting participants, as I understand it, wanted to say just that. The water line from the city of Tyumen to Kaskara will be built, and it will be possible to increase the volume and throughput capacity of that line, so all the residents of small house suburbs will be connected to the centralised water supply. Absolutely no problems here, the question is clear.

Pavel Zarubin: So they will have water in 2020, right? Mr Governor, water in 2020, have we understood correctly?

Alexander Moor: The water supply system will be modernised in 2020. But applications for connection can be submitted even now, because the management has been transferred from the poultry farm to a professional market player, Tyumen Vodokanal.

Vladimir Putin: You can consider the application already in place. That is what people are talking about. So you need to do it right now, not postpone it.

Alexander Moor: We need to apply to Tyumen Vodokanal, and the connection will be made.

Vladimir Putin: Do it. This is as good as done. I have just applied on their behalf. I am asking you – do it as quickly as possible. Agreed?

Alexander Moor: We will do it, Mr President.

Vladimir Putin: I hope this will be done.

In general though, I would like to tell my colleagues, the governors, that they must, of course, join programmes that are being implemented at the Federation level. But they need to use modern water purification methods. We have large enterprises, including those in the defence industry, and one of them, MITT, the Moscow Institute of Thermal Technology, has made a remarkable discovery, a water purification invention, and it is working effectively. But they cannot expand into the regions. I am pointing out to my colleagues in the regions that they need to use such technologies, including the one I have mentioned.

As for this specific case, I am asking you to resolve it as quickly as possible.

Pavel Zarubin: It is a striking example, but there are many more such examples. It appears that no matter what happens through the fault of village, city or regional heads, you are the one who is held accountable. Is it frustrating for you? Many new governors have been appointed this year. Has this produced any positive effect?

Vladimir Putin: This must not frustrate me, because this is my job. I have already said somewhere in the middle of this programme that I feel responsible, in part, for the fact that some of the goals set are not achieved. Of course, I will not turn a blind eye to the failures of ministries, departments or regional authorities. Our colleagues must be held responsible for the range of subjects that are directly within their competence.

I have seen a scrolling line here that said, “Is Direct Line a special services’ show?” I know that it is a loaded question. I can assure you that none of Russia’s special services has anything to do with today’s programme.

You saw how I was preparing for today’s event, this Direct Line. Questions started coming in a long time ago, and the direction of these questions and the topics that are the biggest concern for the people were clear to me. However, this is a direct line to the nation, to our citizens, a direct line that is intended to bring the bottlenecks into focus and to find solutions to these problems, the possible methods of dealing with them, sometimes right on the spot, during our dialogue.

Yelena Vinnik: Mr President, many programmes have been launched in the past few years to help talented young people. We have a representative of the Leaders of Russia contest. Is this contest an effective instrument?

Vladimir Putin: Yes, I believe that it is an effective project. The Leaders of Russia is not the only project of this kind. By the way, we received over 200,000 applications for this contest. Overall, we received more than one million, or more precisely, 1.5 million applications for various sourcing and training projects.

As for this social lift project, the Leaders of Russia, it is an effective project. A considerable number of those who have passed through this screening system now hold the jobs of federal ministers and governors, as well as deputy governors in nine regions. I believe two of them are now federal ministers.

Pavel Zarubin: Let’s have a quick round of questions with short answers.

Yelena Vinnik: Yes, we have been on air for over four hours now.

Vladimir Putin: Let’s go for it.

Pavel Zarubin: The Tyumen Region: “When will the President stop bothering with minor questions?”

Vladimir Putin: Well, these are not idle questions. I do not consider them to be minor if they affect human lives.

Yelena Vinnik: One more question: “All of us know how hard you work. Do you ever feel lazy? How do you fight this feeling?” This question is from a school student Danila Karyakin.

Vladimir Putin: First, psychologists say, if I am not mistaken, that feeling lazy is a normal human state that overcomes people when the body feels it needs to take a break. You should learn to give yourself time to rest. But the only method of fighting laziness is to start working.

Yelena Vinnik: How can you force yourself to work?

Pavel Zarubin: There is an interesting film, “The President’s Vacation”…

Vladimir Putin: Sorry, but I see a hand raised there. Please.

Yelena Vinnik: We will take a microphone over there.

Natalya Kaspersky: Mr President, I am Natalya Kaspersky, President of the InfoWatch group of companies.

My question: What do you plan to do in light of the Huawei scandal, attacks on Venezuela’s energy system and the recent item in The New York Times regarding possible US cyberattacks on Russia’s electricity power grid? How can we boost the import substitution programme in this sphere, because it is clear that we seriously depend on these imports and the substitution project is marking time?

Vladimir Putin: I see. I have already spoken on this subject, but I can mention it again. We are working on import substitution. As I have said, we have allocated some 667 billion rubles for this, including for the high-tech sectors of the national economy.

But the key idea I want to repeat once again is that we must protect the critically important infrastructure sectors, including with the assistance of such companies as yours. We are trying to do this. We need to create an internal market for such products. We will be encouraging this, even if we have to resort to non-market methods.

Natalya Kaspersky: We need to provide assistance to the procurers, because companies and corporations are reluctant.

Vladimir Putin: I understand. We do not so much need to support the procurers as, much as I dislike the word, force them to do what we want. We must encourage them to buy Russian products. We are pondering the possibilities here. I have issued instructions to the Government. We will continue working on this.

Pavel Zarubin: I have been informed that Governor Uss, governor of the Krasnoyarsk Territory, arrived in the microdistrict with no infrastructure at all. We can put him on now, if you see fit. We can see what is happening there. Let’s have a look.

(A fragment of a meeting is shown on the screen.)

Pavel Zarubin: I don’t know if they can hear us, but we can see that work is in full swing now.

Yelena Vinnik: They have responded, they have.

Pavel Zarubin: Let’s continue with our quick questions.

Yelena Vinnik: Mr President, shall we continue with the quick Q&A section or move on to the guests in the studio?

Vladimir Putin: Let’s have some questions from the audience, we have already been talking for four hours.

Yegor Beroyev: I will try to be quick.

Vladimir Putin: Go on please.

Yegor Beroyev: Yegor Beroyev; I am an actor and co-founder of the I Am charity foundation.

We work with mentally special people: with Down syndrome, autism, other wonderful special needs which you are aware of. I would like to speak with you about psychoneurological care facilities. The head of such an institution is simultaneously the client, the service provider and the sole guarantor of the services provided. This results in a direct conflict of interests.

Vladimir Putin: A client and a service provider? How is that?

Yegor Beroyev: Yes, a client and a service provider.

Vladimir Putin: I have no idea what they can provide.

Yegor Beroyev: Everything possible. They are the only caretakers for people living in these care homes. This means there is a system, and it’s completely corrupt.

In 2017, in Petrozavodsk, you instructed your colleagues to reform the system, but regional officials completely sabotaged your instructions; and adoption of the law on distributed guardianship is our only hope now. You know this law very well. Both the government and the State Duma have been trying to adopt this law for two years now.

Now the law is hindered by the State-Legal Directorate of the Presidential Executive Office. We cannot understand its reasoning in this situation. All our hopes today are on you.

I can assure you that society needs this law, because, well, I have been working for eight years and have travelled across Russia with my colleagues; we know that people are living as if they were in prison. These people have no joy in life like we do. They share underwear, they share toothbrushes; they cannot go outside. We must solve this problem. Society needs this. We need them more than they need us.

Vladimir Putin: Ok.

Yelena Vinnik: Thank you.

Vladimir Putin: I shall return to this.

Yegor Beroyev: Please do.

Vladimir Putin: I am sure that the Presidential Executive Office’s State-Legal Directorate has no element of corruption and as you may be aware, personally they are very far removed from this problem. If this is the case, there are some substantive arguments, if there are any at all. Maybe it’s a simple administrative issue. I promise you that I shall return to this subject.

Yegor Beroyev: Thank you.

Yelena Vinnik: Mr President, should we continue with our quick questions?

Vladimir Putin: Yes, please.

Pavel Zarubin: Let’s continue.

“There is an interesting film titled The President’s Vacation, where the main character, without his guards, decided to see real life in Russia. Would you like to travel across Russia like that?” Alexander Yerastov, Vladimir Region.

Vladimir Putin: First, I do travel across Russia.

Second, I would really like to relax freely, unrecognised, but I understand that this is impossible. So I have to make do with real life.

Third, it is one thing to have a trip, even a long one like I once took in Zhiguli, travelling for 2,000 kilometres in the Far East and inspecting the road connecting Khabarovsk and Chita.

However, even if I go somewhere unrecognised, it does not give me a full picture of the situation in Russia, because you can only see specific places and specific situations, while our country is large and not everything is concentrated in one place. It is necessary to have information from different sources in order to understand what is going on in Russia.

Third, I do travel across Russia and look. I can even, I am not afraid to mention this, see what is happening in the regions through the newly painted grass and benches. You know, I can see this. That is why I will continue my trips, but I will have to take what holidays are possible.

Yelena Vinnik: We know you like jokes and often quote them. Do you know any about yourself?

Vladimir Putin: Of course, I have heard a lot.

Yelena Vinnik: Please tell one.

Vladimir Putin: No. Now I have a colleague who does this professionally and much better than I do. (Laughter.)

Pavel Zarubin: Viktor Mitrofanov, Khanty-Mansi Autonomous Area. “Officials inform you about what they believe necessary, and it is often far from reality. Thus they knowingly decrease your ratings and the public trust. When will you make them stand by their words?”

Vladimir Putin: I think that it is an exaggeration to say that all officials always provide false information. Of course, this is not true. But perhaps it happens.

You know, to tell the truth, during all these years in office, I have never seen anybody knowingly trying to misinform me. I cannot remember any such case.

Perhaps they are the ones who are misinformed and they report their position to me when it is not objective; or their proposals regarding some problem are not the best solution. This can happen and happens quite often.

But what can we do in such a situation? We need to gather opinions from many sources and make decisions based on a consensus.

Yelena Vinnik: “What is Russia’s greatest problem now?”

Vladimir Putin: I spoke about this at the beginning and in the middle of our conversation. Since the main goal we must achieve in several ways within the framework of our national projects is higher labour efficiency, which we must use to improve the living standards of the people, one of our biggest challenges is better labour efficiency. This is what we must get down to.

Pavel Zarubin: The topic of officials is very popular. When will inefficient officials be replaced with robots?

Vladimir Putin: Even if we decide to replace some people with robots, we will need to ask the Kasperskys for assistance, we will need to ask Yandex for help because you need people to program robots.

Yelena Vinnik: If there are any left.

“They are slinging mud at us, yet you call them partners. Why are you so polite?”

Vladimir Putin: I would not say I am very polite. However, first of all, even though I grew up on the street, it was a street in St Petersburg, where even the urban environment incites certain harmony. These are not empty words; this is really so.

The urban environment and architecture are very harmonious [in St Petersburg], and they are bound to influence human development and our understanding of harmony. It is my first point.

Second, the Hermitage, the Russian Museum and the Tovstonogov Bolshoi Drama Theatre are all part of the environment in which I grew up. Political culture is part of our culture as well. If it is missing in some people, it is their problem.

Third, I represent Russia, which is a country with a rich culture. I must never allow myself to forget this.

And lastly, the fourth point. When the relationship between countries becomes critically complex or turns sour, ties between these countries’ top officials are very often the last resort for restoring relations, and this door must never be shut. We must serve the interests of our nations. I must never forget this either.

Pavel Zarubin: Alexander Kuznetsov from Chelyabinsk asks: “Are you not tired of being President?”

Vladimir Putin: No. Otherwise I would not have run for this term.

Yelena Vinnik: “When will the railway section of the Crimean Bridge be built?”

Vladimir Putin: The work is going according to plan, so the railway part of the Crimean Bridge should be commissioned at the end of this year.

Pavel Zarubin: “Please tell us the truth – are you an alien?”

Vladimir Putin: No. I have evidence and witnesses such as my family, my relatives, my children after all.

Yelena Vinnik: “Mr President, do you sometimes feel ashamed and if so of what?”

Vladimir Putin: This is such a serious question. And it is not easy to talk about it to a multimillion audience. Of course I am, like anyone else, like any normal person, I hope. I have already spoken about this publicly.

Frankly speaking, it is even hard to talk about it now, but still. It was in the early 2000s; I travelled a lot. The country was going through a very difficult time. So we flew to one of the regions. It was the end of the working day, late in the evening and dark.

It was autumn, and there was slush and mud everywhere, and I was to walk some distance, walking in this slush to the car. Suddenly, an elderly woman appeared in front of me, said something indistinctly and suddenly fell to her knees, and gave me a note.

I promised her to read it. I took it, gave it to the assistants, and it got lost. I will never forget this. I am still ashamed of that. So now I try to carefully study everything that is sent or given to me.

You know, it’s not always possible to resolve problems. Some are unsolvable. I am pretty sure, even certain, as to what was written in that note, having read dozens of such notes by now. Surely, something about helping a son who is in prison, or something like that. But this is not the point; the point is that it has been lost.

Pavel Zarubin: Thank you. Shall we wrap up now?

Yelena Vinnik: Mr President, maybe you wanted to answer some more questions?

Vladimir Putin: I would like to say thank you for today’s joint work together.

Yelena Vinnik: Thank you very much.

Pavel Zarubin: Thank you.

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