Anchor: Hello and welcome to Mayak radio station. Our guest today is the Chairman of the Government of the Russian Federation and Acting President Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin.
Welcome, Vladimir Vladimirovich.
Vladimir Putin: Good afternoon.
Anchor: Let us start with the most critical questions, the questions that arise and that our listeners often ask. My first question is connected with Chechnya. On the one hand, we hear from the military that the campaign is about to be completed, that a turning point is about to occur, that the main military actions are drawing to a close. On the other hand, we witness the tragic death of OMON soldiers in an ambush and heavy losses among paratroopers from Moscow. All this has led to allegations that it has a lot to do with the desire to report a victory ahead of the elections on March 26. What is actually happening in Chechnya? What is your assessment?
Vladimir Putin: As for the military and their declarations, one should treat them calmly. The military are engaged in a fight. And naturally, every victory they score (and we know they are scoring real victories) creates a surge of positive emotions. That is good. That is how it should be. At the same time, there are some things that do not fill us with positive emotions, I mean the tragic deaths of our servicemen. The questions “What to do? What is the current situation on the ground? And where to go further?” are of course relevant. I thought that many of us knew the answers, but if you think the issue should be clarified, let us discuss it once again.
We have just seen on our television screens (I think you have seen it, too), all of us have seen the beast that the FSB has brought to Moscow. I mean the beast named Salman Raduyev. There are still many such beasts at large. They can form themselves into packs and bite back and attack and cause us certain damage – that is true. But it is equally true that there will be no organized resistance there from now on.
What is to be done in the near term? Since certain changes have occurred and organized resistance has been crushed, we will withdraw superfluous armed forces. And we will recognize that large-scale military measures are coming to an end. The military have spoken about it, and that is true. I repeat, it is also true that militants can form themselves into groups and attack and commit terrorist acts and so on. That means we will leave behind as many troops as are necessary to control the situation. We will cut off from the rest of Chechnya the mountainous part where the militants still feel more or less “comfortable” (in quotation marks, of course, because they no longer feel comfortable anywhere). In the remaining part we will carry out social and political activities, take measures to restore the economy, bring social life back to normal, strengthen the law enforcement bodies and special services. In the mountainous part where the militants are still present we will carry out special operations with our troops, we will finish them off. What are the alternatives we face? Either to finish them off or to leave. Two lines or behaviour to choose from. A third is to enter into negotiations with the militants and bandits, but that in effect would be a prelude to the second scenario involving our withdrawal. We pulled out of Chechnya once before. I wouldn’t like to call it a crime or qualify it in any way, but it was a big mistake, a grave mistake. Perhaps the people who were advocating that decision at the time and were prodding the government to take such a step were not aware of the possible outcome.
Anchor: This prompts me a question, Vladimir Vladimirovich. At present there is determination in society, people want to see order: in the whole of Russia, including Chechnya. But the mood within the political elite is not so unequivocal and monolithic, there are some differences. Do you feel that you are coming under any pressure in this connection?
Vladimir Putin: Elites in society always try to exert influence and pressure. But I am convinced that in this case we should think not about elites, but about the interests of the people. And the fact is that if we leave again, as we did three and a half years ago, we will again allow them to build up their forces and we will again be fighting them. And we will be fighting them not on this territory, but in other parts of the Russian Federation. This is something we can no longer afford; Russia will not be a target of such experiments ever again. After the withdrawal from the Chechen Republic we made at least two major mistakes. First, we left the Chechen people at the mercy of these bandits, and the things that started happening there have nothing in common with the interests of the Chechen people. And we have made a major mistake in regard to the whole territory of Russia, the whole of the Russian state, because Chechnya came to be used as a bridgehead for achieving goals that have nothing in common with the interests of the Chechen people. Was it independence they were fighting for when they came to Dagestan? And that territory has become a bridgehead for constant attacks on Russia in order to humiliate it. I repeat, it won’t happen again, we have no right to allow such things to happen.
We face several major challenges: rebuilding and strengthening (not only in Chechnya but throughout the country) of the common constitutional space and preserving the territorial integrity of our state. These tasks will be solved, the necessary resources for it will be provided.
Anchor: Thank you, Vladimir Vladimirovich. I have a slightly different question now. It is connected with elections, this is what the public is concerned about today. How many rounds will there be in the presidential election? As somebody actively involved in the process, what do you think about it?
Vladimir Putin: I don’t think I am all that actively involved in the process. Formerly I could never imagine taking part in any kind of elections. As for the first round or the second round, of course if you throw your hat into the ring, you always count on a positive result, otherwise there is no point in getting involved. To me it would be best if I could reach the result in the first round. Suffice it to say that elections cost a total of 2.4 billion rubles, of which the first round costs about 1.5 billion. And the second round, if it happens, will cost another billion. That’s almost as much as all the pensioners in the Moscow Region are paid.
Anchor: So much?
Vladimir Putin: Yes, so much. And secondly, there are some politicians who are pushing society toward disrupting the elections.
Anchor: You mean the campaign to urge people to vote “against all candidates”?
Vladimir Putin: Yes, of course. This is nothing but an attempt to thwart the elections or drag them into the second round, but they would prefer the elections not to take place at all. What is their plan? They count on the degradation, on the economic situation in the country to worsen. I think that is an immoral position. The life of ordinary people is hard as it is. And they want it to become even worse. I think this is a harmful and unpromising position. As regards the first round or the second round for me personally, I think it is the final result that matters.
Anchor: But I would like to know your forecast.
Vladimir Putin: I don’t think it is such an important issue. I repeat, the main thing is the result.
Anchor: There is another question connected with elections. In addition to elections of the President, attention is riveted to elections of the Governor of St. Petersburg. It is often claimed that Valentina Matviyenko is a Kremlin appointee. How would you comment on such statements and what is your overall view of the election situation in St. Petersburg?
Vladimir Putin: That contention is not true. In general, people know that I come from St. Petersburg myself, so I know the people there well. And I assure you that no one, not even the Kremlin has any chance of imposing any candidate on Petersburg. That is one thing. Secondly, Valentina Matviyenko handed in her resignation some time ago (few people knew about it at the time) and she wanted to quit the Government. I asked her to stay. She stayed and her letter is still in my safe. That was several months ago. Now she has decided to stand in the St. Petersburg elections. I think she has the right to do so, to take part in the elections. If you ask me, she has been one of the best deputy prime ministers for social affairs in recent years. That is a fact. I repeat, the allegations that she is a Kremlin appointee are absolutely not true. Moreover, I am convinced that she should seek her support not in Moscow and at the Kremlin, but above all, among the people of St. Petersburg.
Anchor: At present she has the support of many political organizations in St. Petersburg, so let us hope that…
Vladimir Putin: I am not a member of any of these parties.
Anchor: Speaking about parties. One problem partly connected with the elections and partly with the country’s life in general, are the relations between the Government and business. Some time ago you said you took a negative view of the “oligarchs” or rather what may be described as merger of the government and private business (government administration and private economy). If this is so, what are you going to do about it? And what will become of the so-called Russian “oligarchs”?
Vladimir Putin: It depends on what you mean by “oligarch”. If we mean a representative of big business, that is one thing. We will cooperate with them in the same way as we do with the owners of small and medium-size enterprises and with the trade unions. We will cooperate with all the social strata. If by “oligarchs” we mean representatives of the groups which are merging or contributing to the merger of Government and capital, we won’t have such oligarchs. If we do not create an equal playing field for everyone we won’t be able to extricate our country from its current situation. We face several major challenges: the fight against poverty and crime. These are the two main challenges. The fight against crime has several aspects to it, and one of them is the fight against corruption. In that sense there will be no “oligarchs”.
Anchor: Do you have any practical plans for restructuring state administration?
Vladimir Putin: As regards the improvement of the government structure, many ideas have been proposed and governors have been coming up with various ideas. Today we had discussions about it with Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov and Governor of the Moscow Region, Boris Gromov. Other governors too have come up with their proposals. All this will be discussed and then we will come to making common decisions.
Anchor: Thank you. And in conclusion I would like to ask you a question connected partly with the elections and partly with the Chechen problem. It is a question about your recent meeting with the British Prime Minister Tony Blair. As far as I understand, it was your first meeting with a representative of a major western power as Acting President. What are your impressions of the meeting?
Vladimir Putin: I have ample experience of communicating with the top leaders of foreign states, Russia’s partners, but it is true that it was my first meeting with the leader of another European power in my capacity as Acting President. Tony Blair is not an ordinary man. He comes from an interesting background (his father is a Conservative and he himself is Labour). He has done much to change his party’s political line. As far as I know, he takes the credit for amendments to some programmatic Labour principles. They have shifted a bit towards the center. All this makes him a very interesting interlocutor. We are of the same age. It was useful for me to hear his opinions about various problems, including the North Caucasus. I think we should really listen to the opinions of our partners (especially people like Tony Blair who, I think, was very candid in presenting his point of view on a whole range of bilateral issues and on European affairs). We discussed election campaigns and campaign technologies. He told me in passing on how it is in his country and he spoke about his relations with the Parliament. Naturally, I told him what is happening in our relations with the State Duma and how our election campaigns are run.
Anchor: Sorry for interrupting you, but I would like to ask you about electoral promises. During the course of the presidential campaign I heard the promises that pensions and wages will be doubled. And what about your promises?
Vladimir Putin: I said at the start of our talk that I could not imagine myself campaigning. Mainly because, you know, all these modern election technologies are a pretty dishonest thing. They always involve looking into the eyes of millions of people and giving promises you know are impossible to fulfill. I cannot bring myself to do that. And I am very glad that so far I have not had to. So that was one of the reasons I decided to dispense with advertising spots, debates and other such things.
Regarding promises. Of course, you can give any number of promises. I believe that as the head of Government and as Acting President I should fulfill the promises enshrined in the law (in the event, the law on budget). If there is a chance to do even more than we promised, it should be done, the way we did it with pensions. We promised to raise pensions by 12%, but as things shaped up, we could not just meet that promise, but do more and raise pensions by 20%. That is the way to proceed.
Furthermore, we should keep in mind that raising wages or pensions does not count for much in itself. It sounds grand, but it does not make much difference. You can promise to raise pensions and wages not by 1000, but by 3000 or by 5000 roubles. But nobody mentions that it may result in all the shops being denuded of goods. The thousands a person would get in the shape of notes in his wallet may become worthless tomorrow. So, in addition to raising wages we should simultaneously pledge that the main budget parameters will be kept. One such parameter is the rate of inflation for which we set the target in our budget. When we come to discuss all this, we realize that though the level of incomes is very important for the people and for economic development, it is still only one element of economic development. Another major component is investments. If we look at all these things together we are sure to come to the conclusion (and I think you would agree with me) that what matters is not the formal increase in pensions and wages, the main thing, the goal we should strive for, is to improve the quality of life of our people. I repeat, there are many components in tackling this task. Raising wages and pensions is just one of these components.
Anchor: It is a consequence of the overall economic policy and national development as a whole. But we are running out of time. We on Mayak radio station have a tradition of allowing our guest to say what we forgot to ask, or what was omitted during the conversation, or whatever parting remarks our guest wants to make. Perhaps you would like to add something to what has been said?
Vladimir Putin: I think you have asked me really important questions today and if you think I have made my position clear enough, I can feel happy.
Anchor: Everything is quite clear. I hope that our listeners feel the same way. I think you have given exhaustive answers. Let us hope that this is not your last appearance on Mayak and that in the future we will hear you and apparently see you.
Vladimir Putin: Thank you.