Highlights from President Putin’s live broadcast

Citizens had submitted over 2 million questions for President Putin, by phone and e-mail. President Putin remained on air for three hours and six minutes – his longest broadcast in the six-year history of these events. He answered 69 questions.

Anchor: President Vladimir Putin’s live broadcast ended less than two hours ago. It was his sixth annual direct conversation with citizens, starting precisely at midday. President Putin spoke from a specially-equipped studio in the Kremlin, and the program was broadcast live on Rossiya Television, Vesti Television, Channel One, Radio Mayak, and Radio Rossii. Citizens had submitted a record number of questions, over 2 million, by phone and e-mail. President Putin remained on air for three hours and six minutes – his longest broadcast in the six-year history of these events. He answered 69 questions. Television cameras providing direct link-ups with citizens were stationed at 12 points across Russia, from the Far East to Kaliningrad, plus a mobile studio in the city of Aktau, Kazakhstan. Most of the questions concerned domestic issues, with only eight questions about foreign policy and four of a personal nature.

Anchor: President Putin moved on to what has become a regular feature of his live broadcasts: evaluating changes in Russia. He stated that in previous years he had never lied in saying that results were positive, and the past year has been even better than expected. And the chief indicator of success is economic growth. The GDP growth target for this year was 6.2%, but it actually reached 7.7% within the first eight months of 2007. Most importantly, this growth isn’t entirely due to the raw materials sectors – oil, gas, metals; it’s coming from other sectors of the economy: construction, transport, communications, trade. Living standards have improved, with wages rising by almost 14.5% and pensions to rise by an average of 21% this year, counting the next scheduled increase in December. The demographic situation has improved.

Naturally, President Putin didn’t overlook the two most important problems: price rises and inflation. Putin assured his audience that the government has approved a whole package of measures which should stabilize the situation, and citizens will feel the results before the end of this year.

Central Russia produced what has to be one of the most relevant questions at the moment, given the approaching elections. A resident of Kazan asked what distinguishes the United Russia party from other political formations. And this is how President Putin explained his decision to head United Russia’s federal candidate list.

Vladimir Putin: At United Russia’s congress, I did indeed say that although I’m not a member of any party, I’m ready and willing to head United Russia’s candidate list. Why? Think back to the early and mid-1990s. With an ineffective parliament, an ineffective Duma, it was impossible to pass any legislation providing orderly solutions. Plenty of populist solutions, leading the economy and the social sphere into a dead end, were passed at the time. But essentially, not a single coherent solution that might have promoted economic and social development was passed. The decisions adopted at that time led to the people’s incomes being devalued. Populist solutions were adopted in relation to many of the state’s social obligations. They could not be implemented, because the cost of fulfilling all the commitments passed by the parliament would have been several times greater than the federal budget’s revenues.

In 2007 and 2008, we are facing parliamentary and presidential elections. And there will be a different person here in the Kremlin. Under the circumstances, it is extremely important to maintain a stable development course for our state and maintain continuity in implementing the decisions which have been adopted in recent years. As I said, this applies to the national projects, developing agriculture, developing health care, developing education, developing the Armed Forces, and a great many other areas. For example, when it comes to housing and communal services, relocating people who live in sub-standard housing conditions, and developing innovation-based sectors of the economy – we have done more than make decisions. What have we done? We have reserved state funding for many years to come, for the purpose of achieving these goals. Imagine that people who don’t value these solutions come to power. It would be very easy to re-orient all this, to indulge in populist hand-outs, to run down the gold and currency reserves, for example – and I can say something later about what this would mean for Russia. And then we would destroy the whole collection of positive instruments that enable us to develop and serve as a guarantee that Russia will continue to develop.

Therefore, it is very important to ensure that the parliament is effective after the 2007 election. And United Russia has been a key element of the parliament’s efficacy over the past few years. That is precisely why I have decided to head its candidate list.

Anchor: One of the mobile television studios was set up in the highland village of Botlikh, Dagestan. In August 1999, Botlikh residents formed a militia to repel an attack from terrorists headed by Arab mercenary Khattab and gang leader Basayev. Putin has first-hand knowledge of what happened then. During those difficult days for Dagestan, he flew in to Botlikh to lend the people his support. These days, a professional mountain artillery brigade is stationed in this remote village. And the whole situation in southern Russia has changed completely.

Vladimir Putin: Greetings to all the residents of Botlikh. I remember my visit there, and the picture was entirely different back then. Rather than the well-dressed women and children and the calm men I’m seeing today, the situation was different: I was surrounded by people carrying automatic rifles and machine-guns. I remember the role played by Botlikh in repelling aggression from international terrorism and Wahhabi fundamentalism. With no outside prompting from Moscow, the people simply took up arms and stood to defend the interests of Russia and their own homes.

You know, here is what really moved me. When the federal troops arrived, the village elders approached commanders and asked them: why aren’t you firing on villages captured by terrorists? The answer was also unexpected. Our officers said: we are reluctant to damage your homes. That’s because building a house in the highlands is no easy matter – it can take several generations. I was astonished by the reply from one of the elders: don’t spare the houses. You know, that’s an exceptional example of patriotism – not only local Dagestani patriotism, but Russian patriotism.

But we are not forgetting other communities that were no less heroic – the Tsumadi district, for example. And the fact that a mountain brigade is now stationed here is primarily an element in the development of the Armed Forces themselves. A few years ago, we no longer had any military units of this nature – with special training and special equipment. And they are an element of defending Dagestan, defending Russia’s southern borders, ensuring security – primarily for the people living there. After all, we can remember that back then, in 1999, it took several days for the Marines to arrive from Kaspiisk. Now these capabilities are located right here. But I would like to see the deployment of a mountain brigade accompanied by infrastructure development for the villages of Dagestan, with new roads built, and new schools and hospitals. I know that some of the work we agreed on has been done. And if it’s incomplete, I promise you that we shall definitely complete everything. That’s the first point.

Secondly, I very much hope that relations between military personnel and local residents will be the best they can be – not just friendly, but brotherly. And I’m asking the local residents to support our soldiers.

Anchor: This year’s teledialogue was the first to involve the Plesetsk launch center, with President Putin speaking live on air with Space Forces personnel. A Topol ICBM was test-launched from Plesetsk this morning. Footage of the launch was shown to President Putin during his broadcast. The test was successful: the missile hit its target at a test range on the Kamchatka Peninsula. The chief advantages of the Topol are that it’s compact, effective, and efficient. And that’s what the Russian Armed Forces as a whole will be like, according to President Putin.

Vladimir Putin: We have adopted the Armaments Program to 2015, which covers development for all divisions and branches of the Armed Forces. That includes aviation. And you know, the Armed Forces have already started taking delivery of some new Su-34 attack aircraft – in small quantities, so far, but they are being delivered. And these are very high quality attack aircraft – they’re leaders, essentially, world leaders. I hope that in the near future – by 2012 or 2015, I hope – we shall have a fifth-generation fighter, complete and delivered to the Armed Forces. Missile hardware will be developed, including some entirely new strategic systems. Not only the Topols with their multiple warheads, but entirely new systems – I’d like to emphasize that point, which I have mentioned on numerous occasions. Work is continuing, it’s continuing effectively.

Due attention will be paid to high-precision weaponry. Such tests have been carried out, sometimes in my presence. There have been launches from strategic aircraft, from Tu-160 systems. We shall be modernizing them, just as we shall modernize the Tu-95. And the Ground Forces are already taking delivery of new Iskander-M systems.

We shall pay due attention to equipment for intelligence, communications, and electronic warfare. And considerable attention wil be paid to soldiers, the fighters on potential battlefields, in order to make their actions more effective and efficient and make the soldiers themselves better protected against opponents.

Of course, all this also involves developing the Navy – surface vessels and submarines alike. This year we’re completing the Yuri Dolgoruky submarine – it’s on the ways already, and will start tests at sea by the end of the year. Construction work will continue on the Vladimir Monomakh and the Alexander Nevsky, two strategic nuclear submarines. We shall start construction of another strategic nuclear submarine in 2008.

So we don’t just have big plans – we have grand plans.

Anchor: After the live question-and-answer broadcast, President Putin took some questions from journalists. One of them asked what he thinks of the new Cabinet’s performance. President Putin said that he’s satisfied with the government’s performance, and spoke against the idea of transferring some of the president’s powers to the Cabinet.

Vladimir Putin: No one intends to – I think it would be wrong to take away any of the government’s prerogatives, rights, and duties or load it with any additional ones. That’s exactly what we don’t need: dual power in the executive branch. And I’m opposed to cutting back the president’s powers. We simply need to establish more effective cooperation between the executive, the judiciary, and the legislative branches of government. That’s the path we should take in developing our statehood. But in my view, it would be a mistake to redistribute powers within the executive branch – in the immediate historical perspective, at least.