The President said that the country has been on the right development track over these last years. It has strengthened the state’s foundation, defined the basic economic principles, and built the framework for the country’s political system. But progress has not been as rapid as hoped, Mr Medvedev said, and the time has now come to change the development paradigm.
Developing a high-technology economy is the main task on the country’s modernisation agenda, the President said. Modernisation needs to be rapid and of a high quality, and must be attractive for ordinary people and for business.
Mr Medvedev also said that he has sent the new START Treaty signed with the USA to the parliament for ratification, and called on the United Russia members, the State Duma and the Federation Council to give the treaty their attention and ratify it simultaneously with their counterparts in the United States.
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Excerpts from Transcript of the Meeting
President of Russia Dmitry Medvedev: Overall, I agree with the analysis Mr Gryzlov [Boris Gryzlov, State Duma Speaker and Chairman of United Russia’s Supreme Council] has made as to what we have achieved in recent years. It is true that we have carried out a lot of work, regardless of what anyone writes or says, and the nation has continued to develop – in my view – in absolutely the right direction. We have strengthened the government, established the general principles for our economy’s functioning, and created the framework of our political system. Indeed, this is quite good.
Some things are not as good. We probably didn’t move forward as quickly as we would have liked. We have reached success not only in the areas which might be considered the most important, but perhaps even more so in certain particular aspects. What’s most important now is that the time has come, as the scientific community puts it, to change the development model.
We must indeed do more than strengthen the areas that need strengthening. We must also work on developing our society and economy overall. And in this regard, our nation has no alternative other than working to modernise the economy and the social sphere on a large scale. The main question is whether we will be able to do this, whether our modernisation efforts will be successful. A lot of people are writing about this, approaching me, talking about it at home, discussing it on the internet, and addressing it in political discussions. Everyone has very different ideas on the matter.
”I have no doubt that we will succeed in modernising the nation. The question is how to do this as good and quickly as possible, with minimum loss, and make it attractive to both people and the business (for ordinary people and for entrepreneurs), because these people, their work is the major key to success.“
Honestly, I am absolutely certain that we will be successful, because we simply have no other choice. After all, should we conclude right away that we would be unable to modernise anything? Then what happens? The country will fall apart and the economy will deteriorate? I do not think that any United Russia party member would accept this scenario, and I will not accept it either.
Thus, I have no doubt that we will succeed in modernising the nation. The question is how to do this as good and quickly as possible, with minimum loss, and make it attractive to both people and the business (for ordinary people and for entrepreneurs), because these people, their work is the major key to success. Indeed, all of your speeches addressed this matter and how to deal with it.
The figures presented by Mr Gryzlov are really good. We have achieved success in a large number of areas but there are still some saddening issues, such as labour efficiency. In this regard, we are absolutely not comparable to other rapidly developing nations. Why? There are various reasons, including the overall underdevelopment of our economic base and, frankly, our national habits – how to work: neatness, carefulness, diligence; sometimes, excessive demands toward employers. Finally, we are somewhat lacking in our economic policies. With regard to these matters, I can say this honestly to the people here, who are on the frontlines of the ruling party: there are mistakes everywhere, and nobody is guaranteed against them. What’s most important is not avoiding those mistakes entirely, but rather, being able to fix them in a timely manner.
We have had mistakes in our economic policy, and we need to acknowledge this openly, as I have said many times. We were in good condition before the crisis hit but there were a lot of factors that we misjudged. Because of this, our economic plunge was greater than anyone could expect, even the pessimists who constantly stated that we were living beyond our means and that we were making mistakes. So what can we do now? We should draw lessons, change the structure of our economy, and move away from raw-material based economic growth.
I think that the overall idea is clear to everyone, but if we do not accept this on a personal level and feel it for ourselves, we will just continue hoping for high prices on energy resources. After all, just look at what has happened. As soon as the plunge stopped and the economy began its slow way up in Western Europe, in our nation, and in the United States, everyone began to relax.
Everyone opens their favourite websites and looks up oil prices. The fact that they are already between 70 and 80 dollars per barrel is great, and we feel lucky. It means that our budget is covered, so we don’t need to do anything. And if prices hit 90 dollars, then we can just relax; why would we need to work on modernising anything? Either way, we will have money to implement social programmes and meet the obligations the government has undertaken, which means that we don’t need to do anything.
Of course, we are interested in making sure our energy resources sell well, and we are not interested in overly low oil prices. But quite frankly, 140 dollars per barrel would be a catastrophe; it would destroy all our incentives for development.
I would simply like to make sure that you understand my position on this important modernisation agenda. Thus, we have only one way to remain among the highly developed nations, and I insist on the fact that we are still a highly developed nation (not in all areas, but in most, not just in missiles and nuclear arms). So in order to remain in this position, we absolutely need to create a high-tech economy. We must do this no matter what; otherwise, we will simply miss the opportunity.
Look at what BP is currently doing in the Gulf of Mexico: it is plugging a hole that is gushing oil. This is a sad thing for the environment. Yesterday, I held a meeting of the State Council Presidium and we were discussing this very subject. But I am talking about something else today, even though the environmental implications may be very alarming. I am talking about the fact that following such catastrophes, humankind will clearly direct its intellectual potential toward creating alternative sources of energy. And have no doubt, they will be created. 200 years ago, nobody was using oil; 100 years ago, nobody was using gas; 70 years ago, nobody was using nuclear energy; and yet today, all of these are in use. This means that in the future, we will have hydrogen fuel, and other types of fuel.
And then, what will we do with our oil and gas? Naturally, we will refine them; we will use our gas and petrochemical capacities. But this will not be enough. That is precisely why we all need to understand one simple thing: without laying the foundations of a high-tech economy, we will get no results at all.
Now let’s talk about the social issues some of you brought up. Clearly, as we grow we cannot undermine the social sector. We cannot act in the same way as previous generations or, shall we say, your predecessors along the party line (you know who I am referring to) did, when they repeated the same phrase decade after decade: “Don’t worry, future generations will live better.” Today this doesn’t work, it convinces no one; it only vexes people.
The reason I am bringing this up is that the social sector cannot be put off by saying that we will modernise other areas now, and everything will be great, and we will have a modern economy, but that we’ll deal with nursery schools, benefits, and salaries for teachers and doctors in 2025. We cannot do that! If we did, then regardless of how mighty United Russia may be, and regardless of the popularity of its leaders, the party will not remain in power. This means that we need a competent approach to social policy, and in this regard, I am very happy to have heard some very specific, reasonable, measured suggestions at today’s meeting on maintaining the social policies that we have had in our nation for the last ten years.
Another issue is agriculture. Naturally, this is a sector of the economy, but for our nation, unlike the high-tech industrial nations in Western Europe, this sector involves a specific social structure. In the West, four percent of the population is engaged in agriculture, while in Russia that figure is between 33 and 35 percent. Naturally, we could talk about how this share needs to be decreased, but these are real people, and this cannot be done by waving a magic wand, based on Presidential orders or decisions by other authorities.
It is probably true that if the agricultural sector becomes more effective, then the number of workers in this area will gradually go down, but this needs to be a careful, gradual process, and I want to emphasise again that it affects the lives of millions of people. Thus, our goal is to maintain all of the positive things that have been achieved in agriculture in recent years. One example is the national project that I began working on six years ago, which brought about good results in agriculture; what’s important now is to maintain them.
”Of course, we are interested in making sure our energy resources sell well, and we are not interested in overly low oil prices. But quite frankly, 140 dollars per barrel would be a catastrophe; it would destroy all our incentives for development.“
Look at what happened last year. Our entire production sector declined for various reasons, including exports. The only sector that grew was agriculture. First of all, even during a crisis, people need to eat; and second, this illustrates that there was money to be directed toward the sector, which did not allow agricultural production to die out. We need to maintain all of the good things we achieved. Mr Gryzlov spoke about land laws, and I think that this is absolutely right; we absolutely need to continue improving land laws in the future.
Now, about problems in housing and public utilities. This year, the issue has become particularly acute; it is good that the party is giving it attention. You know, it may not be entirely right for me to give the party advice, but nevertheless, I think that the more United Russia addresses sensitive issues, the more influence it will have. Just look at what has happened. Thanks to your attention toward this issue (as well as my own involvement), the Government has dealt with the regions that had unexplained increases in housing and public utility rates and sorted this issue out.
It’s true that no one is happy when these rates go up, but in some places, the increases were reasonable, while in others, they were entirely irrational. And these excessive expenses have been straightened out. In some places, people were even able to get refunds for money they overpaid, which is an unprecedented move by the government; in the past, the state had never returned anything.
I also fully support the idea that we need to work on education related matters. I am happy that you are embracing the idea of creating a new centre in Skolkovo. You know, I have read a lot of what people are saying regarding the centre. People say, “Well, we have created a lot of things in the past; now, they are trying to push money into a new pet project, and dragging people into it just because the President or his Office liked the idea.” No, that’s not what this is all about.
The things we created before were good, but they did not work that well. We need to create a modern centre that will accumulate money and work on developing new useful models. But what’s most important is to learn to commercialise them and bring in good – I would even say, supercool – foreign experts to work there, and then replicate this experience in other places. If we succeed, then we might have many centres like the one in Skolkovo, or perhaps the ones we’ve created already will join in on the Skolkovo project, but either way, this absolutely needs to be done.
A word on some general matters. One topic that you have not yet addressed, except perhaps broadly, when bringing up the Kononov case, is foreign policy. I will talk about this matter, but I would like to let you know (since there are some lawmakers present) that today, I submitted the new START Treaty with the United States of America for ratification.
I would like to ask United Russia deputies, the entire State Duma, and the Federation Council to give this document their full attention in order to achieve what I discussed with the President of the United States: simultaneous ratification. We would like to ratify the Treaty simultaneously, rather than before or after one another, because it is a result of joint work, a combination of our political efforts and will. You must make sure that it is passed by both parliaments at almost exactly the same time. That way, we will achieve greater trust. You know, in the history of our nation – or rather, the Soviet Union – there were cases when we were deceived. We cannot allow that anymore.
And I would also like to congratulate the border guards. Do we have any present?
Dmitry Medvedev: Today is the Border Guards Day. I sincerely congratulate you and all of Russia’s border guards. These are brave people, and this is a truly great holiday.
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Regarding business, we share the same view here because I also think that the part business has played in our country’s development is underestimated. As a result of what was, sadly, a rather long period in our country’s history, a large part of our population sees business’ contribution in neutral or negative terms.
People had it instilled in them for so long that entrepreneurs are bloodsuckers, at best people who cough up a bit of money for the state and for their employees, but otherwise are busy just consuming wealth and using it for their personal needs. Yes, there are such entrepreneurs too, but they are the minority. And when crisis hits even these people start to realise that you cannot survive for long if you run your business this way. It’s simpler in such a situation to just sell up and retire to the Canaries or somewhere.
I saw in a discussion on the internet that 95 percent of Russian businesspeople have their suitcases packed and ready. I think you took part in that discussion, Mr Surkov.
First Deputy Chief of Staff of the Presidential Executive office Vladislav Surkov: It was 85 percent.
Dmitry Medvedev: I went 10 percent too far. As for the discussion itself, I think this is simply not proper really. For a start, it is just not honest to call today a time when everyone is sitting with their suitcases at the ready.
I spent 10 years in business and can confirm that in the 1990s, many businesspeople were indeed thinking about what was going to happen next, and in 1996, people really did have their suitcases ready and were looking to see who would win the presidential election and where the country would go from there. Would there be a return to the command economy, or would the country keep moving in the direction that started to emerge in the early 1990s?
It makes no sense, I think, to count the number of people ready to sell up and vanish. There will always be such people no matter what the political regime in the country, and no matter how well protected the basic principles of private property are. Our businesspeople themselves have to be ready to take a socially responsible attitude, and the state authorities need, for their part, to give businesses a normal working environment, not ‘squeeze’ businesspeople, not settle scores with them, which does happen sometimes, sadly, but ensure a normal working environment. Then we will achieve harmony. But it makes no sense to count the number of people who want to work here, and the number of those ready to leave. We can never know such figures for sure. In any case, people go through various periods in their lives and their moods can change.
But I agree absolutely that we need to establish a normal investment and business climate. We have amended laws, civil law, and criminal law too, which I think is particularly important. I believe that it was a timely initiative that I made to amend our criminal and criminal procedure laws. Now we should see how these amended laws work in practice, and if further amendments are required we will do this.
In any case, we are to look at introducing more differentiated penalties for violations and infringements committed by businesspeople. The idea that people should be thrown into prison for the slightest misdemeanour in business is a hangover from the Soviet period. We used to have people in prison under various criminal provisions dating back to the 1964 version of the [USSR] Criminal Code, including such offences as output misrepresentations and otherwise distorting plan reports. I even remember the exact article, it was numbered 163 in the 1964 Criminal Code. There was no benefit whatsoever to be gained from this situation. Now too, we must introduce a much more differentiated approach to penalties for economic offences.
There certainly are some cases that warrant tough penalties, but in many cases administrative penalties, tax penalties and requirement to pay civil damages would be sufficient. There is no need to send these miserable businesspeople off to prison, because that will not return any of the money, and it will only increase the number of people we have behind bars. We have more than enough people serving sentence even now, over 900,000, I think.
”There is another political dimension to the internet and modern communications technology. I am absolutely sure you will agree with me that we will eventually see the advent from representative to direct or straightforward democracy through the internet.“
This is an issue we should address too, actually, because we know that repressive measures alone do not always produce results. We are to make effective use of such measures, acting firmly in cases of crimes against individuals or against state security. There is no doubt that some cases require very firm, even harsh penalties, but economic violations are a different matter.
Further to that, I met a few days ago with venture capital funds managers. They were positively beaming with pride and happiness, not because they had come to Russia and were meeting with the Russian president, though this no doubt pleased them too, but quite simply because they were businesspeople, successful people who know how to make money, and do so not by mundane buying and selling of whatever assets, stocks or commodities, but do so through their own productive labour, and risking their own money. They said quite rightly that, “we give $100, and we know that $75 of this money we won’t see again, but the remaining $25 could later turn into $300, and we like this, it makes us very happy”.
I looked at their faces and it became clear to me in which direction we need to develop our own venture business. But we can only do this with the support of businesspeople themselves. If businesspeople are happy to watch their wealth grow as a result of rising oil prices it will be hard to introduce any innovative thinking. I am not against people making money from oil. This is normal. It is an important sector and generates a lot of our country’s revenue, but we need other people too, people who want to make money through highly intellectual labour.
I hope that we will see such businesspeople, people wanting to get into this area, come out of the ranks of United Russia too.
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On the subject of increasing the birth rate, I am ready to continue my efforts too, of course, if you think this important (Laughter). The figures that we have reached are very good. To be honest, when we began this work, planned and discussed it all, I was more pessimistic, because we all know that in developed post-industrial societies, and our country in many respects falls into this category, in perceptions of our intellectual elite at least, in any case, people are not so easily motivated to have more children by monetary incentives. This is true.
But the maternity capital programme has helped, and it has not been the only thing helping. I can name a number of positive results that have come out of the Priority National Projects. I read on the internet today, “Medvedev was in charge of all these National Projects, but where are they today?”
No matter what people may say, these projects are real and they are advancing. Things like the incentives for healthcare personnel, especially in midwifery and gynaecology, incentives such as the childbirth certificate, are real tools that have helped to inject new life into this sector and made it possible to re-equip quite a large number of women’s health and maternity centres.
We have the programme to re-equip and modernise medical centres. It is true that many of them still do not look like medical centres in the West. I travel to various places and see in rural areas and small towns that medical centres now have rather modern equipment. But before, there were centres with totally primitive conditions, nothing but some endoscopes lying around, some glasses with spoons in them, and we have changed this situation. Our achievements are not reason to become proud. No, we need to keep working, looking to the future, but at the same time, we should not underestimate what we have achieved so far.
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Coming to what Vladimir Burmatov member of the Federal Political Council of United Russia’s Young Guard national public organisation said, as a blogger colleague, I cannot but agree that the internet has become an important source of information – in some cases the only source – for a huge number of young people, and for not so young people such as myself too. As I have said before, with so many channels now broadcasting online television is often not even needed anymore, all the more so as the news channels upload all the news to their sites. What this means is quite simply that the information revolution has taken place and any political force that intends to remain on the top has to take this into account. I think that United Russia understands this.
I liked the phrase and will repeat it now about how a loss of initiative online leads to a loss of initiative offline. True, I do not really like it when real life is characterised as being ‘offline’. We are not ‘off’, after all. We still have our feet ‘on’ the ground, on this planet. But in the technology sense this is true, and it is something that we need to work on.
But there is another political dimension to the internet and modern communications technology. I am absolutely sure you will agree with me that we will eventually see the advent from representative to direct or straightforward democracy through the internet.
Traditionally we always saw representative democracy as the highest form of democracy. It was the case when I was in university. In representative democracy, the deputies represent the people’s will and are competent people genuinely motivated to take on the role of deputy. The people, after all, often lack the necessary experience, and in direct democracy, like during the veche [popular assembly in ancient northern Russia], you could have all kinds of absurd decisions get through, and so representative democracy was deemed the best option. But this has become an outdated notion.
Taking into account the education levels of our people and people around the world in general, I am absolutely certain that elements of direct democracy, not just debate on big issues of the moment, sociology or discussion on blogs, but real direct democracy will start to become part of our lives. This will depend, of course, on how accurately we can develop means of measuring popular will, right down to basic electronic voting, but these are all real possibilities, things that we can already do, not to mention what developments the future will bring.
I therefore think that politicians need to prepare for a future in which there will be a growing number of such democratic institutions. This will make politicians’ work more complicated, because it is one thing to pull the wool over people’s eyes, but quite another thing when you are dealing with the direct expression of voters’ will.
On the subject of state services provided via the internet, this is a good thing of course, but so far has yet to start work here. The case you mentioned is a good example of how these state services are often perceived here. State services via the internet are all too often seen as someone getting the possibility of printing out the forms themselves and then coming in with them to go through all the usual administrative procedures and deal with the bureaucrats. But this is a perversion of the whole idea. The whole idea is that without having to leave your chair you can have direct and honest dealings with the state authorities and reach agreements on this or that matter. Anything else is not e-government, but a parody of e-government.
I support the idea of tying evaluation of regional governors’ performance to the progress made in introducing electronic government. I think we already introduced this criterion, and so I hope to see it start work. This is something we will definitely keep working on.
”Attempts by any country to impose its will on other countries have always ended badly — in bloodshed. It was at the cost of all this pain in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries that humanity finally developed a system of international law.“
One final thing, you mentioned the most topical issues, including keeping one’s finger on the blogosphere pulse. I also take this pulse regularly, because I believe that this is very important for any politician, and it is easy to do, what’s more. There are some virtual issues, some hot topics in the blogosphere, that are not in fact so relevant for ordinary people, but very often sociological surveys and the blogosphere pulse do coincide. You mentioned two issues in particular: the national final school exam [EGE] and the Kononov case.
Since you raised the issue of the Kononov case, I can tell you that, as a lawyer by profession, I do not like to pass judgement on court verdicts. It is one thing for people to do this on blogs, but another thing when the head of state does so. Still I cannot but agree with you that what amounts to overt revision of an earlier decision is an absolutely politically motivated act. I will not go into the legal nuances. Whoever is interested can look at the statement issued by our Foreign Ministry and the opinions expressed by specialists in international law. What I do want to say, however, is that, sadly, this amounts to an attempt to overturn the existing system of international law in some regards, and this is a very dangerous thing.
In the 1990s, some countries attempted to impose their own jurisdiction on other countries, this was the case in the 1990s, and in this decade too. We always stood up for the prerogative of the United Nations and the primacy of international law and international courts, because no one country can pass a verdict on another. All countries have state sovereignty. Attempts by any country to impose its will on other countries have always ended badly — in bloodshed. It was at the cost of all this pain in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries that humanity finally developed a system of international law. I say again that decisions such as this one undermine the foundations of international law, and this is sad to see.
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(Response to a question on the procedure for appointing governors): I will give you my own personal opinion, because my personal opinion on this issue determines whether a given candidate governor will be suggested. So in this regard, I always have my own opinion, which has the obvious legal designation.
You know, when we were changing over to the new system for appointing governors, there were definitely some doubts. I am referring to the beginning of the transition from direct gubernatorial elections to the current system wherein they are granted power by local legislative assemblies based on the President’s suggestion, and now, based on proposals by the parties which are supported by the President and submitted by him to the legislative assembly. The main reproaches have always been along the lines that this is a step back from democracy, that this is a system that sets us back. I have always looked at it quite pragmatically, probably because ultimately, the people living and working in our Federal constituent entities want a governor to have several qualities. First, he or she must be an effective executive; second, he or she must know how to speak with the people and be able to hear them out; and third, he or she must simply be a decent, honest person.
The direct election system does not always guarantee that the person elected will have all three of these qualities. Nor does this current system. That means that neither of the systems has an obvious advantage over the other, but there are some details that are very relevant to life in our nation. Russia is a complicated federal state, so it is imperative for our executive authority to be consolidated and truly working in a cohesive way, rather than the unfortunate situation we had in the 1990s, when a lot of regional constitutions were passed that contradicted the Russian Constitution, and some regional laws completely contradicted federal laws. In this regard, the current system allows us to resolve the issue of unifying authorities, and as you know, authority has only one source: the people.
Now, about the new procedure. I believe that it is better than the previous one, because when a selection was made by the President alone, through his Executive Office, this decision was solely mine. Still, errare humanum est, it is common for people to make mistakes, and even the President can make mistakes. Now, I am relying on the parties’ opinions. It is easier for me; there are more of you, here I am not kidding, and you are the most respected political force in the country. You are directly responsible for everything that happens in our nation – not just morally responsible, but legally responsible, when you offer certain candidacies for governorships.
Now Mr Gryzlov, along with his colleagues, comes over and says, “given that our party is in the majority in the legislative assembly in this region, the party proposes the candidacies of Ivanov, Petrov, and Sidorov”. And this proposal is your direct legal responsibility, your responsibility to the people. It is also simpler and clearer for me, because this way, the regional authorities are more representative.
As far as efficacy and professional qualities of your candidates are concerned, your party has its own talent pool and, if you’ve been paying attention, the party has begun using it. Recently, I put forward absolutely new candidacies in 30 percent of our nation’s regions and that was done over a rather short time period. You can call it what you want, a gradual rotation of the elite or a revolutionary change in leadership. In any case, we now have new people. Certainly, they too can make mistakes. Are they ideal? No, but this is a new generation of officers and we absolutely must help them. Incidentally, I am counting on everyone proposed by United Russia to receive party support in their every endeavour, so long as you have a mutual understanding. I have no doubt that we now have new, modern people in charge of the regions. Whether or not they are successful will depend on them and on our consolidated efforts.
And as far as the future is concerned, I have also answered this question many times. You know, for the moment, I believe that we should operate within the system of granting authority to the governors that we recently created. We cannot be constantly changing it; we have improved it and optimised it, so now let’s look at how it will work. Then, later, we’ll see.
Clearly, I cannot speak for those who will be in my position in 20 or 30 years; these will be independent politicians who, I hope, will have a responsible perception of our nation and the mandate they receive from the people. As for me, I would think it over one hundred times before making a decision to change this kind of system because of the specificities of our state. You know for yourselves how these specificities are manifested.
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(Response to a question on improving relations with Ukraine): I wish our citizens could feel these improvements immediately, because after all, within this brief period, we have been able to achieve a few things, and in particular, we have agreed on a range of very important issues that had remained unresolved for a rather long time. The new President of Ukraine and I will continue jointly addressing economic matters, humanitarian ties, and other areas, including security cooperation issues. But a great deal depends on the overall mood, and people’s moods are influenced by various factors, first and foremost by their living standards, and the success of their nation’s government.
I hope the decisions that President Yanukovych and I have made will help improve life in Russia and in Ukraine. And since that is the case, this will be reflected in the moods of the peoples. I think there is no need to prompt our people toward good, brotherly relations with the Ukrainian people because these are our closest, nearest relatives. We need this feeling to be mutual, and for that to happen, our Ukrainian partners need to put in some effort.
It should be admitted, the economic situation in Ukraine is significantly more complicated than ours. In fact, when President Yanukovych came to office, they were at the brink of national default. Now we have implemented a range of joint measures, and as a result of the decisions taken in Ukraine I hope that this problem of default will be solved. Still, there is much left to do in order to create a modern, well-functioning economic model on the basis of the current Ukrainian economy.
At the beginning of my speech, I spent a long time criticising the situation in our own nation. True, everything is relative. In this sense, our situation is certainly better than in Ukraine. Even the average Russian salary, which was mentioned earlier, is two or three times higher than in Ukraine, although in the USSR the Ukrainian economy was never lagging and in many respects it was performing better than economies of other Soviet republics. Thus, a great deal depends on us and I am certain that if we work well, if we speak and meet frequently to resolve the challenges in front of us, then we will be able to overcome the problems that we have been having during the previous years, because just a little while ago, the situation was far more serious.
Last year, I was very emotionally strained when making the decision to postpone sending the ambassador of the Russian Federation to Ukraine. You know, it was not an easy decision. If anybody thought that was a form of pressure or the flexing of political muscles, they were entirely wrong. After all, this is Ukraine, it is not a state located tens of thousands of kilometres away from Russia, it is the nation that is closest to us. But the extent of the degradation in our relations was such that we had to do this as the previous Ukrainian authorities were absolutely rude and insulting in their attitudes.
But now, I feel that we have every opportunity to renew our relations, revive them again, and take them to a new level.
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(Answer to question about leisure time and invitation to visit the Valley of Geysers in Russia’s Far East): This is a good question regarding the President’s work. I enjoy having some time off, but for any adult, especially the one working in public service, the problem is finding the time to do so. I can tell you that I am very happy to have entered government service at the beginning of this decade and to have made major changes to the way I spend my holidays. In the 1990s, I used to spend them the same way many other Russians spend theirs – and thank god, they can do that, – that is, holiday abroad. There were various reasons for this. First of all, it was very interesting to see how the world works, to visit some of the best known holiday destinations, and simply see some of the exotic places of our planet. Perhaps if I had not come to Moscow, I would have continued to take such trips, just like many other people who have the opportunity to do so. But after I began working in Moscow, I understood that our nation is much bigger than I had imagined.
Naturally, in the 1990s, I also went on business trips and saw a few things, but in recent years, I have had a chance to visit 77 or 78 of our 83 federal entities (my colleagues have records of the exact number). It is a great pleasure for any state leader and for any person in general to have the opportunity to visit nearly every corner of one’s nation. I am very pleased that this has happened. Naturally, there are still many things I have yet to see. I have visited Kamchatka, but to be honest, I have not had the chance to see the Valley of Geysers. I will certainly visit one day, because it truly is one of the wonders of the world. All the more so, because, I believe, it has been restored to look almost the same as it does in these pictures after being destroyed by a natural disaster [a landslide] several years ago.
But you know, I would like to recommend that all of you follow my advice and go on holiday within Russia. Naturally, if you would like, you should visit other places as well, but you should also see our own nation – not because we should all crowd together somewhere in our own territory, but simply because we have an enormous, very beautiful country. Somehow, we tend to forget this when living in Moscow, St Petersburg, or any other large city. Yes, we love the cities we live in, and we know their advantages and shortcomings. But when you find yourself in our nation’s spacious expanses in Siberia, the Far East, Central Europe, and the regions near the sea, you understand how enormous our nation truly is. After all, there is a good reason why many Americans tend to spend their holidays in the United States. It is not because they don’t like to go abroad, but because they are interested in enjoying the many sites they have in their own – big – country. But the same is true of our nation. Of course, our level of service is not very good, but it is in our power to make holidaying in our country just as comfortable as in other countries for those tourists who are not seeking extreme vacation. This, too, is a very important area where we can apply our efforts and invest capital, which I’m sure will bring dividends both to the business and to our nation in general. And so, it is certainly my pleasure to accept your invitation.
I will speak very plainly: it is a real pleasure for me to see that we now have more opportunities to travel around our huge country. Let’s all work to expand these opportunities for our citizens year by year.
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Colleagues, I would like to tell you that it has been very interesting to talk with you. And I would like to wish you just one thing. The well-being and prosperity of our country is in your hands, because you are the ruling party. All of you, everyone sitting in this hall, are very active people, people with proactive attitude, as they used to say in the past. All of you here are successful people. I would like you to use your own experience to help other people – to help those who trust their future to your party. Your party must be alive and energetic. Let me repeat, you are all very energetic people, so please help your colleagues.
I have a major request that you work on developing the talent pool. It is impossible to cover everything from Moscow. Yes, we can appoint governors, we can make other key appointments, but the real life, the real work runs in other places. These include municipal and regional government posts, and these positions need to be filled by competent, modern, smart individuals – people who will be capable of taking measures to modernise our nation.
So, I would like you to share your energy with your colleagues. If you fail to do this, there will be other people to meet these challenges – people who will take your place. You must understand that nothing lasts forever. You must know how to make use of what you have right now, and what you have is a very powerful instrument: authority. You must know how to use it.
See you next time!