Dmitri Medvedev answers questions from the public

Senior Deputy Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev held an online conference yesterday. Medvedev answered questions for two hours, demonstrating his ability to explain the national projects in minute detail.

“Here in this historic building, I’d like to congratulate the Izvestia team on the newspaper’s 90th anniversary. Congratulations to everyone who is working on the newspaper today, participating in the creative process,” said Senior Deputy Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev at the start of his online conference yesterday. Medvedev answered questions for two hours, demonstrating his ability to explain the national projects in minute detail and communicate in the style and language familiar to the Internet community.

The online conference was organized by the Izvestia newspaper,, and the portal (dedicated to the national projects). Over 8,000 questions were submitted, and online polls were used to select which questions Medvedev would answer. The moderator’s role was entrusted to Vladimir Mamontov, Izvestia’s editor-in-chief. But Medvedev seemed to scrutinize the incoming questions as closely as the moderator – asking how many votes certain questions had received, or asking the questioner’s age.

One of the first questions was this: “You have said that there’s a concentration of crooks in the pharmaceuticals industry. Can you name any names?” Noting that he is a qualified lawyer, Medvedev refused to name anyone – not until they are proven guilty in court. All the same, he assured the questioner that investigations are under way in a number of cases. The medications issue was raised again toward the end of the conference, when journalists present at the Izvestia Media Center put some questions to Medvedev. He was asked to comment on the news that the United Russia party’s Duma faction intends to issue another call for the dismissal of Healthcare and Social Development Minister Mikhail Zurabov. The reason: continuing problems with supplies of medications for social benefit recipients. “I think the next two or three weeks should make it clear whether the Healthcare Ministry has coped with these tasks, and we shall decide what to do next on the basis of that performance,” said Medvedev. Once again, he didn’t name any names – above all, he didn’t mention Zurabov – but there was an obvious hint to the effect that conclusions will be drawn, and dismissals could follow, by the end of March.

Should the government introduce a tax on second and third apartments as a means of preventing real estate speculation? Should housing construction be entrusted to state-owned companies, so that they can bring prices down? Medvedev said no to both questions. A tax on second and third apartments wouldn’t work, since everyone would start transferring ownership to relatives. As for housing construction, “the market doesn’t tolerate separate regulation.” Medvedev also commented on the phenomenal popularity of the “family estates” question – according to the online poll, almost half of respondents are keen to obtain a hectare of land and build a family mansion. Medvedev paid tribute to the scale of the online publicity campaign: “Leaving aside certain elements of how such polls are done, it’s a positive idea, on the whole.” No one will get a hectare of land for free, of course, but 2,500 square meters for construction purposes at a cost of 10-15,000 rubles – that’s entirely feasible, as Medvedev explained. He noted that this won’t involve any mythical “family estates” – it will result from the start of a program aimed at building individual housing.

Even before Medvedev’s online conference started, it was being compared to President Putin’s online question-and-answer sessions over the past two years. There was indeed a resemblance – Medvedev promised to take urgent measures to correct some situations when questioners complained about them. For example, he promised to increase maximal leave periods for parents of children with chronic illnesses. At present, mothers of such children are not allowed to miss more than 120 working days per year, but Medvedev agreed that sometimes even this isn’t enough, and “we should make some changes to the legislation.” Medvedev also responded to the complaint of another mother who said that only a quarter of internationally-available drugs used to treat epilepsy are approved for use in Russia, and the approved list doesn’t include the best and most effective drugs. Medvedev promised that the list of preparations certified in Russia would be revised. Another answer: within the national projects framework, assistance for infertile couples will be increased substantially. Medvedev said that the state will cover the cost of 7,000 IVF operations this year. Each operation costs about 150,000 rubles, and only two years ago, said Medvedev, the budget didn’t allocate any funding for this purpose.

Almost all questions pertained strictly to the national projects (other questions were weeded out by the online conference moderators). The only exception was a question about the Internet itself. The online poll recorded a high number of votes for a question from Lord Medved, concerning the “Olban” language Russian netspeak. Medvedev commented on the unusual spelling and odd personalities as follows: “Well, Medved is a popular online personality, and the need to study the Olban language cannot be ignored.” Medvedev said: “Whatever one may think of this alternative style of the Russian language, the fact is that it does exist in the Internet community.” The moderator responded: “Internet users must be applauding you, if they know how to applaud.” (Until now, all state officials had avoided any references to popular online jokes.) “I think they might write a few words in this alternative Russian language, and then we can work out whether it’s applause or some other judgement,” said Medvedev.

The journalists at the Izvestia Media Center were more interested in the successor issue, asking Medvedev about it after the online conference. “I can say with complete honesty that I am thinking of the future,” said Medvedev, building up suspense. But then he dispelled it: “However, at present these plans bear no relation to any specific office.” And he explained why: “Not because I’m a fatalist, or because I don’t have any plans, but I think that once you take something on, you need to finish the job – and what I’ve taken on are the national projects.”

“Is there any difference between how the response to the national projects appears at meetings and consultations, and how the response comes across on the Internet?” That was a question from the Izvestia newspaper. Medvedev replied informally: “I hope I’m not easily hoodwinked – I can tell the difference between real problems and Potemkin villages.” According to Medvedev, discussion of the national projects online overlaps by about 80% with the real issues. The main difference is that online discussions often pose questions more acutely. And Medvedev sees the overall similarity as an advantage: “Sometimes when I go out to the regions, I wonder if they’ll be more concerned about some other issues. But they’re not. And that means we have indeed identified the key problems, the most urgent problems, to address via the national project.”