RUSSIALINK TRANSCRIPT: “Direct Line with Vladimir Putin” – KremlinRu

File Photo of Putin Sitting at Desk, Looking Down, Writing, During Call-In Show, adapted from screenshot of video at kremlin.ru

(Kremlin.ru – June 7, 2018)

[Complete text in Russian and video: kremlin.ru/events/president/news/57692]

The annual special Direct Line with Vladimir Putin was broadcast live by Channel One, Rossiya 1, Rossiya 24 and Public Television of Russia TV channels, and Mayak, Vesti FM and Radio Rossii radio stations.

Andrei Kondrashov: Good afternoon. This is Direct Line with Vladimir Putin, a live broadcast by Channel One and Rossiya television channels. This event is also broadcast today by Rossiya 24 and the Public Television of Russia TV channels, and by Vesti FM, Mayak and Radio Rossii radio stations.

The anchors here in the studio today are Kirill Kleimyonov and myself, Andrei Kondrashov. Our colleagues in the call centre are Natalya Yuryeva and Tatyana Remezova.

Kirill Kleymenov: Good afternoon. This is the first Direct Line since President Vladimir Putin’s inauguration. This programme is hugely popular. As of now, we have received around two million questions from the public.

Of course, some of the issues come up year after year. They include healthcare, housing and, of course, wages and pensions. There are also acute problems that are particularly pressing this year. Rising petrol prices is the main topic these days. All these issues will be discussed today. But, frankly speaking, we do not really want this Direct Line to become a book of complaints. Therefore, today we will also speak at length about Russia’s future and the goals for the next few years.

However, as we speak about current problems, of course, we hope to solve some of them, here in the studio.

Andrei Kondrashov: As you may know, 2018 was declared the Year of Volunteering. That is why volunteers are helping us here today.

They represent dozens of charity organisations. Here they all are, young and enthusiastic. And because they are young, they will be interested in the contours of Russia’s future more than anything else.

What is the point of them being here in this studio? They have been working with us for the past ten days and, you know, they have already managed to solve some minor and even not so minor problems reported by the public. As is often the case, local officials shift their responsibility to the federal government. And these guys have been calling governors and forcing them to act the way they ought to. Therefore, today they are ready to tell a few stories like this to the President when he arrives.

Kirill Kleymenov: Let me add that today, like in the early Direct Lines, we decided not to invite guests to the studio, and we did it specially to enable more questions to be asked by people who are out there on the spot.

Andrei Kondrashov: And perhaps a more serious change. For the first time in the history of this programme, we have decided to use the same video links which the President uses sometimes, indeed, rather frequently, to communicate with the governors, federal ministers and deputy prime ministers. And all these people – regional heads, key federal ministers and deputy prime ministers – will be live in this studio today.

So, if need be, the President can invite any of these people to talk and if such conversations do take place, this would certainly be interesting.

Kirill Kleymenov: And so, the President of Russia Vladimir Putin is on the air.

Natalya Yuryeva: Good afternoon, Mr President.

Tatyana Remezova: Good afternoon.

Natalya Yuryeva: This is our traditional message processing centre, it has been working for more than ten days already.These are the telephone operators and here are the volunteers, this is something new that we did not have before.

Volunteers: Good afternoon.

President of Russia Vladimir Putin: Hello and thank you very much.

Volunteer (Passes a document to the President.): This is one of the most frequently asked questions, take a look at it during the Direct Line if you get a chance.

Vladimir Putin: OK. A question about fish, important.

Tatyana Remezova: Good afternoon. We are working in the call centre that is receiving questions for the Direct Line. I think right now the number of calls has just gone over two million. You can submit your questions to Vladimir Putin right now. The telephone number has not changed: 8 (800) 200 4040. You can also use 04040 for SMS and MMS messages. If you want to watch the broadcast with sign interpretation, please tune in to the Public Television of Russia or go to our website.

Natalya Yuryeva: Not only do our phones never stop ringing but the internet is also buzzing with activity. We have already received almost 270,000 online messages and another 53,000 via the programme’s official accounts on Vkontakte and Odnoklassniki. We have received over 20,000 video messages and people continue to fire their questions.

Let me remind you that for your video question to feature in the programme, you need to install a special mobile app called Москва -Путину (Moskva-Putinu), sign up and either record a video or make a video call, whichever you prefer. Just like last year, you can also use the OK Live service to watch us live and wait for your opportunity to have a direct video link with the President. So, make a call, we are accepting questions until the end of the programme. Perhaps, it will be your question that Vladimir Putin answers.

Tatyana Remezova: We are also monitoring discussions on social media. Thanks to the SN Wall communications platform, here on this screen you can see how users respond to the programme in real time.

Over the past few days and this morning, almost 340,000 comments have been posted on Odnoklassniki, Vkontakte, Facebook and Instagram using hashtag #DirectLine. This is the most popular hashtag but people also use #QuestionForPutin, #PutinLine and #WatchingPutin.

We will also closely monitor responses to the programme while it is broadcast.

Kirill Kleymenov: We are all ready. Shall we start?

Vladimir Putin: Yes, please.

Kirill Kleymenov: Mr President, during the Direct Line two years ago you were asked whether we were passing through a black or a white streak. You replied, it is a grey streak. How would you answer the same question today?

Vladimir Putin: A predictable question, of course, because in this case we are talking about the outcome of our work last year. I have brought along the statistics for last year and the trends in the first quarter of 2018. If we use such categories – “white,” “black,” or “grey” – to indicate what streak we are in today, we are moving towards a solid “white colour.”

Of course, nothing in nature is absolutely white. Look at the Arctic and the Antarctic. They seem to be absolutely white, white wilderness, and yet even there is a sprinkling of grey and black spots. It is the same here. But on the whole, we are moving in the absolutely right direction.

What gives us grounds for thinking this? First, we have reached a trajectory of sustainable economic growth. Granted, it is as yet modest growth, as I have said before, but still, this is not decline but growth, 1.5 percent last year. Industry is growing, agriculture is growing steadily. And it is a steady trend.

What else gives us grounds for saying that we are moving in the right direction? Inflation is at an all-time low. This is an important prerequisite for further growth. All this is happening against the background of an even faster growth in direct investment: 4.4 percent during the past year. This is a very good indicator. It shows that growth is guaranteed, secured in the near term.

We have a good trade surplus. They give me various figures, some say 130 billion last year, others say 120 billion. We discussed it with the colleagues yesterday and the final figure is 115 billion. But even that is a very high figure.

At the same time, we have very low foreign debt, less than 20 percent, and the Central Bank gold and currency reserves are increasing (before, they stood at under 400 billion, today they are 450 billion or thereabouts). All this shows that we have good stable conditions for economic development.

Finally, one of the key indicators: life expectancy continues to increase, that is number one. And number two, we have achieved steady growth in incomes. Wages have risen, real incomes have risen by 3.8 percent. Again, experts cite various figures.

If the additional five thousand rubles paid to pensioners at the end of last year are subtracted it makes exactly 3.8 percent. I have to make it clear from the start: this does not mean that every individual feels the difference, but on the whole the statistics are absolutely objective, this is real, this is true.

We are exporting machinery and equipment, and these exports are growing substantially, which suggests certain structural changes in the economy. I have already noted with satisfaction that the export of agricultural produce is growing. Look, it reached 20 billion the year before last, and it was a pleasure that it exceeded the export of arms.

We exported armaments worth 15 billion, agricultural goods – 20 billion, now 23, and there will be even more this year. That is, we can state with confidence that we are moving in the direction of this ‘white zone.’ But there are still quite a few problems of course.

Kirill Kleymenov: The export of machinery and equipment that you mentioned, Mr President, shows growth despite the sanctions.

Vladimir Putin: This is not about sanctions. Let me see if I have forgotten anything. I think I have mentioned the main points. There are other good indicators, but what I said is probably enough.

Andrei Kondrashov: Mr President, we have been living with the new Government for more than three weeks now. Initially, there was a lot of debate about the Cabinet appointments, and passions are still running high about the nominations, from the prime minister to the old and new ministers.

Some say, stability and experience are precisely the new Government’s competitive advantages. Others say this is not the Government that can make the breakthrough you talked about in your Address. What do you think?

Vladimir Putin: I see these debates and, in fact, I had no doubt that they would arise. It is good that we have discussions on almost every issue, on all administrative decisions, every economic and social policy move. This is a good thing.

Here is what I think, and I believe many will agree with me. You see, the thing is that the development plan we need to implement, the one we have been talking about over the past few years, was drafted by the previous Government. They have been working on it for at least 18 months.

I know perfectly well that if we reshuffled 100% of the Government and appointed totally new people, even if they were perfect administrators and well-trained professionals, they would need at least two years to either formulate existing goals or develop new ones. We would lose at least two years. We do not have these two years.

Therefore, I made a decision that the Government should be significantly renewed by bringing in “fresh” people, if you would allow me to use this term, but well-trained and who have proven themselves in major and important spheres.

We also had to keep those who have been preparing solutions for the groundbreaking development of our country, to personify the responsibility for what has been done so far and what is planned for the near future. I think that we have the ideal Cabinet for today.

Kirill Kleymenov: Mr President, let us talk about what the Government will need to do in the near future. You have set very serious strategic goals for the country in the May Executive Order you signed after assuming office.

These goals include reducing the number of people living in poverty, improving the demographic indicators and increasing life expectancy to 80 years by a specific deadline. The ambitious economic goals include increasing real incomes and becoming one of the world’s top five economies.

But the question is whether the Government has real instruments for attaining these goals.

Vladimir Putin: First of all, we have a clear understanding of what we need to do and how to achieve these goals. These goals have been set out in my Address to the Federal Assembly and in the draft development plan, which the Government should adopt this autumn.

You see, even though we have preserved the core figures in the Government, we will still need to formulate our proposals and solutions within the next few months. As it is, only a new Government can do what we have been discussing for the past 18 months. This is the first thing we need to do.

Second, we must adopt a full-scale programme-based approach. We have used this principle in individual industries and spheres. We must now apply it everywhere. The programme-based approach has proved effective and we have accumulated the experience of applying it in practice. This is the first thing.

Second – or is it third? We must introduce personal accountability. This issue also concerns the new Government line-up, because many of those who will be implementing these tasks have kept their seats. The new people in the Government also have the ability to deal with this issue. There must be strong personal accountability. We have no time to waste, as I said.

And third, we must ensure funding. The figures have been made public. After making rough estimates based on the belief that we can spend 17 billion rubles on this in the next six years, we have come to the conclusion that we need another 8 trillion rubles, at least, to attain the goals you have mentioned.

Overall, we know where to get this kind of money. We must above all boost economic growth, which is the main source of additional funds, use the available resources more efficiently and adjust our macroeconomic plans, as well as our taxation policy, bearing in mind that the taxation policy the Government must adopt soon needs to stay intact for the next six years. This is the most important thing for those active in economic affairs.

Kirill Kleymenov: That is 17 plus 8 adds up to 25 trillion, right?

Vladimir Putin: Yes, 25 trillion rubles exactly.

Andrei Kondrashov: There are a lot of questions about taxes. People ask, for example, whether a sales tax will be introduced and whether the income tax for individuals will be raised above the usual 13 percent. A question from Voronezh: why raise taxes only to spend that money to shore up the tumbling standard of living. Will there be a tax hike?

Vladimir Putin: Indeed, as I said, we are talking about an extra eight trillion roubles, which will not come of thin air. I have already said where we can get the funds, I am not going to repeat it.

One of the sources is tweaking the tax system. What you have mentioned just now, the income tax on individual taxpayers, or the sales tax, it was also discussed by the Government and at the level of experts.

Many, including opposition parties represented in parliament, propose changing the income tax. We thought about it for a long time. At first glance, a differentiated scale of income tax appears to be more socially fair, that is, those who have a higher income should pay more taxes.

Practice, though, is more complicated than theoretical formulas. What does the practice of differentiated tax on the incomes of individuals in the former years show?

Andrei Kondrashov: People concealed their incomes.

Vladimir Putin: Exactly. As soon as it is introduced, some citizens who have higher incomes start using various methods to hide their incomes. Additional payments begin to be made under the table and so on.

In other words, the fiscal result is close to zero, but there is a lot of noise and the investment climate worsens visibly, so it was decided that it was impracticable.

As for the sales tax – this was also discussed and many of our experts came out for introducing this tax. Firstly, we used to have such a tax, called the turnover tax. It was a heavy burden on the economy as a whole and it is a heavy burden ultimately on the citizens, because it inevitably spurs inflation.

All this convinced us that introducing this norm is not expedient either. Other proposals are being considered by the Government and are to be adopted. Without getting ahead of ourselves, let us wait until these decisions are made, they should be made very soon.

Regarding the burden on citizens that may increase poverty. Our target is to cut poverty by half. We have talked about it more than once, indeed, between 2000 and 2007 and 2008 the number of people living below the poverty line dropped by half.

That figure moved somewhat in the negative direction during the complicated economic situation in 2008-2012. But now, as I said, wages have grown at the rate of 9.8 or 9.6 percent and real incomes have grown by 3.8 percent.

We are moving in this direction and we are set to solve one of the key tasks – reducing the number of people living below the poverty line. The redistribution within the tax and budget system is aimed not at increasing the number of people who live below the poverty line, but on the contrary, at reducing it.

We are talking about certain manoeuvres in the tax and fiscal sphere to direct part of these resources to solving this task, reducing the number of people in our country who live below the poverty line, create conditions under which the state will be able to render assistance to those who need it, in other words, to target it better. If we follow that course, there will be no worsening of the situation and we will most probably achieve a positive result.

Kirill Kleymenov: Let us go back to the economy. As I said at the very beginning of the programme, the petrol price hike is one of the most urgent topics today. Our programme gets a great many of calls and messages about that.

My colleague Tatyana Remezova is continuing her work in the call centre.

Tatyana Remezova: Thank you, Kirill.

Petrol is indeed breaking records not only regarding prices, which are changing daily, but also in terms of the number of questions sent to our call centre. For example, the price of petrol in Achinsk, Krasnoyarsk Territory, went up by six rubles in a week and a half. According to a message from Tatarstan, it was 39 yesterday, 41 today. AI-95 gasoline in Anadyr is 55 rubles per litre. The Ulyanovsk Region residents have launched “A petrol-free month” campaign. Meanwhile, others ask: Isn’t it time for people to sell their cars? Alexei Karavayev from St Petersburg has sent us his video question.

Alexei Karavayev: Good afternoon, Mr President. I am Alexei Karavayev from St Petersburg.

Will you please tell us how long petrol prices will go on rising. Diesel fuel is 45 rubles per litre – how long can we tolerate this? It is just impossible, stop it, one way or another. We made such a momentous choice on March 18, the whole country voted for you but you are failing to curb petrol prices.

Vladimir Putin: Alexei, thank you for your question.

I think you must have noticed that the Government has already made a number of decisions aimed at solving this problem.

I agree with you that what is happening now is unacceptable, it is wrong. But we have to admit that this is the outcome of the incorrect, to put it mildly, regulation that has been introduced recently in the field of energy, in the sphere of energy resources. What happened? While managing the budget, the Government revised some taxation measures, made a so-called manoeuvre in this area.

What was it all about and what was done? I am not going to go into details or specifics but it ultimately led to boosting exports of crude oil. What happened next? Oil prices went up in the global market. To supply crude oil to their refineries, our companies do that, but they calculate the lost profit for the volume of oil sent to refineries, which they could have otherwise sold on the international market and gotten a big income. To make up for these alleged shortfalls in revenue they raise petrol and diesel fuel prices.

The Government has already taken a number of steps in this regard. Let me remind you that something was achieved quite recently in a dialogue with our leading oil and gas companies. So what has been done? First, excise duties were lowered by 3,000 rubles on petrol and 2,000 rubles on diesel fuel. A previous decision to further increase excise duties as of July 1 was cancelled, it will not happen. By autumn this year, further measures will have been taken to stabilise the market situation. I proceed from the fact that the Government will be strictly monitoring this, and the Federal Anti-Monopoly Service will enforce necessary decisions rather than turning a blind eye to developments.

To get an expert opinion from people directly responsible for this, let’s hear from the Russian Energy Minister.

Andrei Kondrashov: Right now, he is available.

Vladimir Putin: Yes, I know, our anchors have already announced that we are working in a different mode today, in a new format. I have asked my colleagues from the Government, from the regions to be available, to be in their offices during the Direct Line.

We can call Alexander Novak and ask him to comment on what I have just said.

Kirill Kleimyonov: Let us do it.

Andrei Kondrashov: We are calling the Energy Minister. Please.

Minister of Energy Alexander Novak: Mr President, good afternoon.

Allow me to report on the current situation. Indeed, in May we recorded a rise in fuel prices of an average 5.6 percent against April. This is indeed above the level of inflation. If we take January-April, prices at petrol stations were growing no faster than inflation. Therefore, in May we first observed a real price increase, according to the Federal State Statistics Service. Now, the price rise has been stopped. The Government in May promptly adopted a number of measures aimed at stabilising prices in the wholesale market and at petrol stations. You have already said this. We reduced excise tax on diesel fuel and petrol from June 1, and this measure has been working since June 1, and we agreed not to raise excise taxes on petroleum products from July 1.

These urgent fiscal measures have certainly had a positive impact. We can see that prices at petrol stations have not gone up since May 30, since the end of May. In addition, agreements were reached with all oil companies at Government level to stabilise prices at petrol stations, and to increase the output of petroleum products and their supply to the domestic market to prevent a deficit.

I would like to report that today there is a sufficient amount of fuel in the domestic market to meet domestic needs and to take farmers through the sowing period, and there is no shortage.

Mr President,

We in the Government have worked out a number of additional measures that could help stabilise the market in the event of any price deviations. We are talking about the possibility of imposing an export duty on petroleum products. An appropriate draft law has been prepared, which we are ready to submit to the State Duma.

We would like you to support it. This would be an additional factor to curb price rises in the domestic market.

Andrei Kondrashov: Thank you, Mr Novak.

Vladimir Putin: It is not just an incentive. Rather, it is a warning to the oil companies. I hope that we will not have to resort to anything like that. We have always had a constructive dialogue with the oil companies and with the gas companies. What is good is that there is understanding on their part, understanding that the problem cannot be driven into a corner, that it needs to be addressed – this is very good.

By the way, I see Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Kozak on our screens now. I know – he reported the situation to me yesterday: yesterday, he met with our leading oil companies, with their heads. Let us give him the floor, let us listen to what they agreed upon yesterday.

Andrei Kondrashov: Mr President, while we are connecting with Mr Kozak, let us show you a joke. It is about how you would fill up today your yellow Lada Kalina that you once drove across Russia.

Vladimir Putin: Let us see.

Andrei Kondrashov: This is the picture we have. It is a joke that went viral on the Internet.

And here is Mr Kozak.

Vladimir Putin: Yes. Please, Mr Kozak.

The Lada Kalina is already being discontinued as other models are going into production. But it was a good car.

Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Kozak: Indeed, on May 30, we agreed with the oil companies to freeze prices. The Government took reciprocal steps: that is precisely what the Government’s mission is – to flexibly respond to the situation in external and domestic markets.

Therefore, on May 30, together with the oil companies and key ministries, the Government adopted the necessary decisions to lower the excise taxes, as you already said, within the existing parameters.

The reciprocal proposals by the oil companies consisted in stabilising fuel prices at filling stations. We agreed that we will control, that we will monitor the situation at the filling stations daily and that the Federal Anti-Monopoly Service will update the Government on a daily basis during the week.

As of yesterday, all companies are generally delivering on their commitments. Yesterday, we additionally agreed to increase supplies of petrol and diesel fuel to the domestic market. Over this week, trade in diesel fuel on the exchange has already increased by 20 percent and in motor petrol – by 19 percent.

This is also having a stabilising effect on the market. Overall, as the Energy Minister said, except for some firms with a small trade volume, oil companies are delivering on their commitments.

Regarding Mr Novak’s words about a threat – and you were right in saying that failure to implement the agreements posed a threat – the Government will literally tomorrow submit to the State Duma a draft law, which is expected to serve as a restraint in order to bring down the so-called export netback and ensure a balance between internal and export motor fuel prices. The law, if enacted, will allow the Government to raise export duty on motor fuel, bringing it practically to the level of export duty on crude oil.

This was also met with understanding by oil companies. The Government will be able to address this kind of threat, as it will have an additional tool to respond to the situation in the domestic and export markets. However, we hope we will not have to use it.

Should such a situation develop, depending on how well oil companies meet their obligations and what world oil prices are, the Government will be able to quickly take the necessary decisions. I am sure that this move will lead to a stabilisation of oil prices.

Andrei Kondrashov: Thank you very much, Mr Kozak. We will forward all questions and other messages we have received from our citizens regarding growing fuel prices, directly to Mr Kozak and Mr Novak.

Vladimir Putin: Please proceed with this draft law; I will support it.

Kirill Kleymenov: Mr President, there is a subject we must take up at the beginning of this programme. The World Cup will begin in Russia in exactly one week. It is an event we have all been looking forward to and preparing for a long time.

The national teams are already arriving. The Iranian team has arrived and settled in the assigned premises, and the Spanish and Panamanian teams are expected in Krasnodar and Saransk today. I know that they have prepared a landmark welcome ceremony.

We can move to the huge FIFA fan zone in Moscow, on Vorobyovy Gory, from which you get an amazing view of Moscow and the Luzhniki Stadium, which has been renovated for the World Cup.

I am giving the floor to my colleague, Anton Vernitsky.

Anton Vernitsky: The vista point on Vorobyovy Gory offers a full view of Moscow and, most importantly, the Luzhniki Stadium, where the World Cup will begin in a week with an opening game between Russia and Saudi Arabia.

Luzhniki is one of the 12 stadiums that have been built for the games. This is because Luzhniki, although it has not changed on the outside, has been thoroughly overhauled to become one of the world’s best football arenas. Today we invited to this meeting those who are closely associated with football.

Valery Gazzayev won the UEFA Cup with CSKA Moscow and is now one of the most renowned coaches in Russia. Mr President, you talked with him about football last year.

Yevgeny Lovchev is now our colleague, a sports expert and journalist, but he was once a famous player with Spartak Moscow. And lastly, we have with us Yury Semin, the chief coach of Lokomotiv Moscow, which won the Russian Premier League this year. This impressive group of football personalities is ready to speak about the world’s most popular game and its future.

We discussed this issue before we were given the floor. We talked about the Russian team’s chances considering that its performance has not been impressive during the friendly matches. We have decided that it depends on the World Cup, which will begin in a few days.

We also talked about the new stadiums, which are really big and beautiful and have been built in many cities. But do we have enough good football teams to attract people to these stadiums. What will happen to these stadiums? Take Luzhniki, which you can see behind us. It hosted the opening ceremony of the [1980 Summer] Olympics and athletic world championships, but now it is purely a football stadium. What will track and field athletes do now? There are many other questions.

The first question is from Valery Gazzayev.

Valery Gazzayev: Thank you.

Good afternoon, Mr President.

Vladimir Putin: Good afternoon.

Valery Gazzayev: During last year’s Direct Line, you asked me about the quality and the future of our football. I considered your question a direct instruction to work in this area. My colleagues and I have watched almost all world football tournaments, all the best world and European championships. We also developed a programme to reform Russian football and the national tournament in order to involve all Russian regions in children’s, youth, professional and amateur football, and, of course, we will also use the legacy of the 2018 World Cup. I would also like to say that we are making use of the legacy of the 2014 Olympics as well. We are ready to present to you our programme and to tell you about it in detail.

As for our question: naturally, all our colleagues and the entire football community understand how busy you are today and how difficult the current foreign political situation is. Therefore, we would like to ask you to keep football in the centre of your personal attention. You are a winner by nature.

Thank you for letting us celebrate and host the World Cup. We have received spectacular, amazing, one-of-a-kind sports facilities. And, of course, this infrastructure will be the foundation of our future impressive results.

Kirill Kleymenov: Mr Gazzayev, what is your question?

Valery Gazzayev: I would like to wish you good health, Mr President.

Anton Vernitsky: But what is your question?

Valery Gazzayev: My request is that football should be a focus of your attention, Mr President. I am very pleased that it is so. I would like to wish you good health, Mr President. May God protect you, St George assist you in all endeavours and St Nicholas the Wonderworker give you health and luck.

Thank you.

Kirill Kleymenov: Mr President, do not abandon our football.

Vladimir Putin: Now, I take it the question was about the so-called legacy, right?

Kirill Kleymenov: It was mentioned, yes.

Vladimir Putin: What are we going to do with these grandiose facilities after the Word Cup?

You are absolutely right. We have managed to solve a very difficult task, the kind of task no other countries that hosted Olympic Games had managed to solve as effectively. The infrastructure in Sochi (practically all of it) is in use, and what is more, it is in use all year round. Both clusters, the Coastal and the Mountain one, are in use. And that is definitely a success.

Regarding the football infrastructure, the 11 stadiums. Of course, we have spent a lot of money on them and – I absolutely agree with you there – all this infrastructure should be utilised, above all for the development of sport. I mean amateur sport, children’s sport, we should create children’s and youth teams and leagues and organise competitions. All these facilities should pay their way and work effectively.

All this is possible given a competent approach. As you know well, a modern stadium is not just the football pitch; there is a huge number of spaces inside the stadiums where you can put anything you like. And they do put in anything they like, in the good sense of the word, of course. There are retail centres and fairs, cafes and restaurants.

Kirill Kleymenov: Sports clubs.

Vladimir Putin: Yes, of course. Not just sports clubs, but (most importantly) special areas for fitness and sports. A lot would depend on the heads of the Russian regions because once the World Cup is over the organising committee will hand all this over to the regions.

I would like to appeal to my colleagues in the regions. We must not allow marketplaces to spring up at these venues, as it happened at sports facilities in Moscow in the mid-1990s. Such a development and such use of these wonderful facilities must not be allowed.

And I think the Russian Football Union, the RFU, should be actively involved so that these facilities are used effectively to host big, interesting matches, so that it would make it necessary to create new, interesting, strong and promising teams.

So that at long last we could raise a new generation of athletes and football players domestically. Let us face it, although our team has not been making a brilliant showing recently we have a huge number, millions of fans of this beautiful sport.

Incidentally, I remember my conversation with the coach of our national judo team on the eve of the London Olympics after a somewhat lacklustre performance of our team at the Europe and world championships, and the coach, Ezio Gamba, told me: our main event is the Olympic Games.

He was right because our judo team performed better than any other team, even that of Japan, had ever performed in the whole Olympic history. Let us hope that our football team will spring a surprise at the upcoming championship and give of its best.

Kirill Kleymenov: Of course, we have faith in our team and support it. We may be able to discuss this topic some more during the course of this programme. In the meantime let us touch upon some other questions as well.

Andrei Kondrashov: And before this, a question our studio has received from social network users. By the way, this is not the only question, in fact, we have dozens: “Russia has a tradition: after the inauguration, the head of state announces pardons. Will this tradition continue?”

And another question: “It would be good to pardon those who are in prison for the first time for committing a minor offence. Will this remain a tradition?”

Vladimir Putin: What does the question say, “There is a tradition”?

Andrei Kondrashov: Yes. “There is a tradition: after the inauguration, the head of state announces pardons.”

Vladimir Putin: Honestly, I do not know anything about this tradition. I do not think Russia has it.

Andrei Kondrashov: Maybe they mean a European tradition, or an American one.

Vladimir Putin: But it says, “We have a tradition.” These are the words, “Russia has a tradition.”

Andrei Kondrashov: Yes, indeed. “Russia has a tradition.” Maybe if Russia does not, it will start this tradition?

Vladimir Putin: First, Russia does not have such a tradition. Second, it is not the President, but the Parliament – the State Duma – who announces pardons. We do this from time to time; I have supported these initiatives.

They must be well prepared and come from certain domestic calls and reasons, not external ones, even if they are as important as the presidential election.

Andrei Kondrashov: Let us give the floor to the call centre. Natalya Yuryeva, please.

Natalya Yuryeva: Thank you, Andrei.

Let us give people using social networks and mobile devices a chance to ask Vladimir Putin a question. Right now 7,000 people in the Moskva-Putinu [Москва-Путину] mobile app are waiting for their chance to talk to the President. Let us give one of them a chance.

Good afternoon! Hello, you are on. Please tell us your name, where you are from, and ask your question.

Natalya Zhurova: Good afternoon, Mr President. I am Natalya Zhurova from Tomsk.

I have three children. My question has to do with the allocation of free land to large families. This law does not work very well in our region.

As far as I know, in 2011, President Dmitry Medvedev signed a law on free land, the allocation of plots to large families. In 2015, this law became void, as far as I know.

At present, regional authorities are responsible for allocating free land to large families. In 2010, I signed up and was placed on the waiting list. I was number 735 at the time. This year, I have moved up half the list to 300 something.

Mr President, my question is this. How much longer will I have to wait – eight years or maybe ten – with three children, two of them boys? You see, we want to teach them, to show them how to work, we want each one of them to grow up to be someone and to love the Russian soil.

I am saying this on behalf of many families, parents raising large families: we would certainly like to live and work on our Russian land. I know there is a lot of abandoned land, but there are people who want to revive it and to live there. I am 42 years old, and if have to wait another ten years, I will be 52-53.

I mean, I understand that time goes by, but I want to live and bring up my children on this land while I am still young. Mr President, I think you understood my question. If this law actually works at the regional level, it would be good if it helped people, especially those with many children.

There is something else I wanted to say. When I went to our regional authorities, I was told that I should get on the waiting list, that is, I have no right to get land now, because in our region, it only goes to families with four children or more. And with three children, you have to wait in line. But, as I know this law, I think that the regional government is most likely violating it.

Vladimir Putin: Thank you for your question.

Natalya Zhurova: Thank you. I am very glad to see you and talk to you.

Vladimir Putin: Thank you, Ms Zhurova. This also sounds somewhat strange to me, indeed, that to get land, you need to have at least four children. The fact that there are three in your family is wonderful; it is our policy to ensure that families have at least three. This is my first point.

Secondly, we should incentivise families like yours.

The third point is about the land. Well, there is a lot of land in Russia, so it is not that; the question is that it should be suitable for use, including for housing construction. And this means that it must be close to infrastructure or the infrastructure should be built first. This, of course, requires certain costs, it goes without saying. These are the main, the most substantial costs.

You are from Tomsk, aren’t you?

Natalya Zhurova: Yes, I am from Tomsk, from the city of Tomsk, the region’s capital.

Vladimir Putin: Tomsk, or rather Tomsk Region is developing very well in a sustainable manner, and is self-sufficient in terms of resources. The issue is to set the spending priorities, including with regard to budgetary allocations.

Let us hear from Governor Zhvachkin. Is he with us today?

Andrei Kondrashov: We will ask our editors to get in touch with the Tomsk Governor.

Vladimir Putin: Yes, please.

Tomsk Governor Sergei Zhvachkin: Good afternoon, Mr President.

Vladimir Putin: Good afternoon.

Sergei Zhvachkin: I would like to thank you for answering part of the question. You said correctly that we have a special programme regarding this, alongside other programmes on the allocation of housing and other incentives for large families. She said she had moved up the waiting list from 700th to 300th place. I definitely need to talk with her. It looks as if officials have failed to inform her of her rights. We will definitely settle her problem soon, and I will meet with her and subsequently update you on progress in her case, Mr President.

You said correctly that the problem in Siberia is that we have a vast territory, but we cannot allocate land plots without utility lines. Therefore, we currently allocate only land plots with the appropriate infrastructure to large families. I will meet with her personally and subsequently report to you, Mr President.

Kirill Kleimenov: But is there a directive under which land is only allocated to families with four children?

Vladimir Putin: No, this is the local officials’ interpretation. Here is what I would like to say. It is not “her” or “she.” It is “Mrs Zhurova.” This is the first thing.

Second, you said that some officials seem to misunderstand. We must know which officials these are, and they must not be guided by any formal considerations but try to act in the interests of the people who live on the territory these officials have been entrusted to manage. Of course, if there are instructions in your region that free land can only be issued to families with four children, you should take a closer look at them. Raising three children is a challenging task in modern conditions, and this family has three children, hence you should help these people. You should incentivise them and create conditions that would encourage other families to have more children. I ask you to settle this.

Andrei Kondrashov: Let us hear another question from our television audience. Tatyana Remezova is also in the call centre.

Tatyana, please, you have the floor.

Tatyana Remezova: Thank you very much, Andrei.

I would like to give the floor to our volunteers. They have been collecting calls for all 10 days of our call centre’s work. Moreover, they called back and talked with those who contacted the Direct Line.

Sitting next to me is Anatoly Parfenov, a volunteer of the Russian Student Rescuer Unit; Alexandra Nemerovskaya, who represents Moscow Volunteers and the Give Life foundation; Olga Nikitina, who moved to Moscow from the Primorye Territory; and Olya, a healthcare volunteer. They all have been taking calls from the Far East.

Anatoly, please.

Anatoly Parfenov: Mr President, there are many calls from the Far East, and they all are very different.

The region has the same problems as everywhere else, but also those specific to the region, such as the Far Eastern hectare programme. One of the main problems with the Far Eastern hectare programme is that the land plots are very remote, so remote that it is impossible to get to them. People write that this is because all the good land plots were taken by officials. For example, Vitaly Grishchenko from the Khabarovsk Territory came from Moscow to receive a land plot 312 kilometres away from Khabarovsk. There also are cases when land plots are allocated in a preserved area, and it is difficult to receive the cadastral registration. There also are humorous incidents: for example, Olga Antonyuk from Vladivostok was only given half a hectare and told there was no more land.

Alexandra Nemerovskaya: Yes, it is difficult for the hectare to catch on, but it is also quite difficult to stay in the Far East. The acute deficit of jobs is the region’s main problem. We have the example of Pyotr Litvintsev from Komsomolsk-on-Amur. He is a laid-off aircraft engineer who has to – can you imagine this? – paint roofs. Speaking about where our specialists go. Unfortunately, this is why young people leave.

Olga Nikitina: Yes, I can confirm Alexander’s words, because I am from the Primorye Territory. I like my region very much and would like to connect my future with it, but, unfortunately, I cannot see a way to do this yet. We, people of the Far East, do not feel like a part of Russia. We want to travel across our country, visit our relatives and relax at the Crimean and Krasnodar Territory’s resorts, but cannot do this because it is far too expensive to travel by plane or train even inside the region. Yes, there are subsidised tickets, but there are so few of them that they sell out in a matter of seconds.

Tatyana Remezova: We have a phone call from Ussuriysk. By the way, that is where Olya is from.

Olga Nikitina: Yes, that is where I am from.

Tatyana Remezova: I am sure it is on the same topic. Let us take this call.

Alexei Grigoryev: Good afternoon, Mr Putin. My name is Alexei Grigoryev.

I would like to ask you about the rise in the airfare on the Moscow-Vladivostok route this summer. My family (my wife and two kids) live in Moscow and I work in Ussuriysk, in Primorye Territory.

In June the price of economy class tickets from Moscow to Vladivostok rose from 55,000 rubles to 112,200. In other words, we have to spend about 150,000 rubles on one-way travel. Please consider this matter.

Vladimir Putin: Let us start from where our caller left off, the increasing airfare from the Vladivostok area to other parts of the Russian Federation. One of the volunteers has already mentioned this.

By the way, I would like to address all volunteers, not only those who are on the line with us, and to thank them for the work they have done to prepare this Direct Line and generally all the volunteers who work for our country in various, very important areas. This is the first thing. (Applause.)

Number two. Regarding airfare from Vladivostok to other parts of Russia. One of the volunteers has just said that there are programmes that subsidise flights at certain periods during the year that target various age groups.

The first thing to be done of course is to expand the geography (it is gradually expanding) of these subsidies and extend the periods when these subsidies are effective, and extend them to more age groups. However, these are limited one-off solutions even though they are needed and can be implemented.

And finally, at the end of the day the main solution, perhaps in time for today’s event or maybe it was prepared in advance, but anyway a decision concerning the Far East was taken by the Government yesterday or the day before: the decision to introduce zero VAT on these flights. This is the first and very important, very substantial step towards reducing the price of these tickets. We will see how it pans out. This is the first thing.

Second, the labour market in the Far East. It is certainly a problem, as you have said. It is a great pity that an aircraft manufacturing engineer is painting roofs. A painter is a good profession, but that man’s qualifications are way above painting roofs.

What are we doing about this? I would like to point out that we are supporting the high-tech sectors that were created in the Far East over the past decade. One of them is aircraft manufacturing. In the past, only combat aircraft were manufactured in the Far East, but now we are also developing civilian production there.

For example, the SuperJet 100 is a civilian aircraft that is based on our aircraft manufacturing competencies, including those used to build combat planes. But we manufacture this plane based on modern achievements and foreign technology and competencies, and in cooperation with our Italian and French colleagues. The French worked on the plane’s engines.

In other words, we will continue to develop aircraft manufacturing in the Far East along with shipbuilding, which we are reviving there. Take the Zvezda Shipyard, where major projects are progressing and where specialised vessels will be built, including very large ships that have never been built in Russia before.

We will also develop the space industry in the Far East. There is a reason the Vostochny Space Launch Centre was built in the Far East and not somewhere else in the country. These competencies – high-tech sectors, including auto manufacturing – will be further developed.

You know that we have taken a big step in science and education. In fact, although we created a new university based on existing schools, Far Eastern Federal University is unique for the Russian Far East in terms of quality and scale. These are large and long-term projects, but we will continue to move in this direction.

As for the Far Eastern hectare, the programme is effective despite its drawbacks. Thank you for drawing our attention to them. I hope it is not true that officials have taken the land plots. But we will review the situation again, although we have done this many times before.

Judging by the number of questions regarding this, the programme is popular, and people readily take these plots. You know that we have decided that land plots should be allocated not only to residents of the Far East but also to anyone who is willing to move and settle in the region. We will continue to improve this programme. I will definitely pay attention to this.

Thank you very much.

Kirill Kleymenov: Mr Putin, this year there are more questions about Russia’s relations with the West. And I must note that anxiety in these messages and questions is mingled with discontent.

I will quote a typical message: “It seems that Russia is to blame for everything. The sanctions have become the main way of communicating with us. What can be done when they are not even willing to listen to our reasoning? And most importantly, there is a feeling that our arguments will not be heard at all, not ever.”

Vladimir Putin: I am following what pops up on our left and right. One of the questions that appeared on the interactive screens: “The accusations against Russia are endless. How long will this continue?” This is similar to what you just asked.

What can I say? I have spoken about this more than once; I can only repeat myself. As you see, this is another way of restraining Russia, just as the notorious sanctions are, because these endless accusations give them reason to apply restraining measures, as those who resort to such methods in dealing with Russia and restraining Russia’s development think. Why are they doing this? Because they see Russia as a threat, they see that Russia is becoming a rival to them.

I can only say that this is an erroneous policy; it is always preferable to establish constructive interaction rather than try to restrain someone, Russia included, and the overall effect for the world economy would be exceptionally positive, and for the overwhelming majority of those in international communication.

Our partners are finally coming to this understanding. You can see what is happening in many countries. Even at the political level, everyone talks about the need to build normal relations. Yes, each country has its own interests, but they should not be attained through selfish political strategies, including those in the economy. This understanding is coming to many of our partners. I hope this process will gain momentum.

Kirill Kleymenov: Mr Putin, and still, when do you think this period of decline in our relations with the West will end? Because during Russia’s long history, we have had other periods of conflict with the Western countries, and very short stretches, when these relations reached a positive level. What is your estimate?

Vladimir Putin: You know, I cannot give you a specific date, but I can tell you the conditions under which this could happen.

It is obvious for us, for Russia, that we must protect our interests. We must do this consistently, not rudely or arrogantly, but we have to protect our interests in the economic and security spheres. We have done this and we will continue to do it. But we are always searching for compromise, we are ready to compromise.

All this pressure will end when our partners realize that the methods they are using are ineffective, are counterproductive, harmful to everyone and that they will have to deal with the interests of the Russian Federation.

Andrei Kondrashov: We have a SMS message on the subject “Will there be a World War Three?”

Vladimir Putin: You know, if you remember what Einstein said. I think he said he did not know what weapons the Third World War will be fought with but the Fourth World War will be fought with stones and sticks. This means that World War Three could put an end to civilisation as we know it. Understanding this should prevent us from extreme and very dangerous actions in the international arena that could threaten modern civilisation.

Incidentally, since World War II we have lived in conditions of relative, again relative global peace. Regional wars continuously flare up here and there. It is enough to recall the war in Vietnam, the conflict on the Korean Peninsula, or the current conflicts in the Middle East – in Iraq and Libya. But there have been no global wars. Why? Because the leading military powers established strategic parity. And no matter how unpleasant this may sound, it is true: the fear of mutual destruction has always deterred international actors from sudden movements and made them respect each other.

The US withdrawal from the ABM Treaty was an attempt to break this strategic parity. But we are responding. I already said in my Address that the modern weapons systems that have been developed and will soon be adopted by the armed forces will undoubtedly maintain parity.

It is necessary to understand this, think about this and find modern forms of interaction that are in keeping with current realities. It is time to sit at the negotiating table and elaborate modern, adequate models of international, European security.

Andrei Kondrashov: Here is question number 337 from our website. Alexei Ksendzov asks, or rather demands: “Mr President, please take some measures against Latvia. Why do they ban teaching in Russian language? Introduce some sanctions. Thank you.”

Vladimir Putin: I have already said that the introduction of any unilateral sanctions just complicates problems rather than helps to resolve them.

As for the position of our compatriots in the Baltic countries we continue talking about this and drawing the attention of the Baltic authorities, including in Latvia, to this issue. It is hard to believe that hundreds of thousands of people have been declared non-citizens in a modern civilised society. Such a category does not even exist – it is not envisaged by international law. There are citizens, people with dual citizenship or without any, but the notion of “non-citizens” has never existed. It was invented in the Baltic countries to limit the legal rights of the people that live there.

But we must defend the interests of our compatriots in a way that does not make their situation worse. This is why we are in dialogue with our partners in the EU in the hope that eventually they will be ashamed that while they pay attention to human rights violations beyond the EU, they allow flagrant violations of human rights on EU territory. This is exactly the situation described by the saying: “Why worry about a speck in your friend’s eye when you have a log in your own?”

We will continue working persistently on this issue but so as not to harm those who live in these countries.

Kirill Kleymenov: Let us give the floor to our TV audience. Tatyana Remezova continues taking phone calls and video questions.

Tatyana Remezova: Thank you, Kirill.

In addition to governors and ministers, there are many other well-known figures in our audience: politicians, journalists and those who are commonly referred to as public opinion leaders. Now, we have Sergei Shargunov, a writer and a State Duma deputy, on the line.

Good afternoon, Sergei. You are on the air, you can ask your question.

Sergei Shargunov: Good-afternoon, Mr President.

Vladimir Putin: Good-afternoon.

Sergei Shargunov: Russky Island in Primorye. A large literary forum is under way here. Though I am a Muscovite, I nevertheless came here to attend this forum.

Here is my question. It seems to me that Russia has always been, in spite of everything, in spite of any obstacles, a freethinking country. Freethinking and sharp polemics have always been important both for our social life and our art.

I have been receiving many worrying signals lately from various places, especially from the regions. Some performers zealously revert to the extreme, in a manner of speaking – this applies to certain web hosting services on social networks, likes and reposts. These are not direct calls for violence, which I categorically condemn, but often it is simply a matter of absurd and harsh judgements. You can disagree with them, by why prosecute?

Sometimes, it comes down to sheer idiocy. For example, some young patriotically minded people were put on trial on charges of setting up a utopian group for a referendum on the responsibility of the authorities in the country. One might wonder if this is really a crime. But no, here is “an extremist community,” I understand that neither you, nor I can interfere with judicial proceedings, but we can nonetheless make some judgements.

Sometimes, I get the impression that if Article 282 of the Criminal Code were interpreted literally, then zealots would posthumously convict Pushkin, Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky and Mayakovsky and rule to sensor their work. And then we get these newly-passed laws concerning the internet. To my mind, they are fairly vague. There is plenty of room for interpretation.

Would it not make sense to somehow stop those who rush full speed to raze other people’s opinions? This is particularly worrying when it comes to people’s destinies, especially young people, who, it seems, should not be scared off.

Vladimir Putin: Yes, I agree with you. You mentioned literary classics. A character from a very popular play said, “I’d take all books and burn them up like that.”

We cannot take this path and we will never take this path. But judicial practice must be open to public scrutiny, which is extremely important, and adjusted if necessary to prevent excesses.

If the point at issue concerns extremist content, we must act in keeping with a general rule, just as in other spheres and areas of society, as I have said, this rule being that those that are guilty must be called to account. But we must first provide a definition for their actions before carrying the case to absurdity. I fully agree with you on that.

Let us analyse the problem within the framework of the Russian Popular Front. I will ask my colleagues to do this, since they have been effective in many other areas of concern to the country in the past.

On one hand, we must fight extremism, which is in the interests of the overwhelming majority of our people. Who would say “No” to putting an end to the [online] encouragement of suicide, especially among young people? Would anyone do this? Of course, not. Or take the popularisation of Nazi ideas. Nobody would protest putting an end to that. Yes, but we first must approve official definitions. We should involve the Supreme Court in this. I am confident and can assure you that people in our law enforcement and judicial agencies understand what they must do. If anything merits additional attention on our part, let us do it. Let’s focus on the problems you have mentioned.

Sergei Shargunov: I will provide the names, if I may.

Vladimir Putin: Thank you.

Andrei Kondrashov: When replying to the previous question, you mentioned the United States’ withdrawal from the ABM Treaty on ballistic missile defence. Do you remember that you first drew public attention to this issue back in 2007 in Munich? You said then that the United States was spreading its national jurisdiction to other countries, which is very dangerous. The theme of your speech then was a multipolar versus a unipolar world.

Years have passed. Nobody listened to what you said then. And now the EU and Canada are facing a trade war with the United States. The Federal Chancellor of Germany and the President of France recently visited Russia. Of course, they are not saying this in public, but do they suggest behind closed doors that it is time to lift the sanctions against Russia? Or are they still waiting for permission from Washington?

Vladimir Putin: This is not only about our one-on-one conversations, although they form a considerable part of the negotiating process with the leaders of France, Germany, with our Austrian friends – I have just been in Austria – and representatives of many other European countries, not to mention Asia. They are not just saying it in my ear, they are already saying it publicly.

A French Government Minister recently publicly said that the USA cannot be allowed to become the world’s economic policeman. He said it publicly. The former German Finance Minister publicly said a few months ago that the Federal Republic had never been a sovereign state in the full sense of the word since 1945.

Everybody sees, of course, what is happening. But apparently, our partners thought that they would never be affected by this counter-productive policy involving restrictions and sanctions. Now we see what is happening, because the introduction of tariffs on steel and aluminium from not only Europe, but also Canada and Mexico – this is sanctions, in fact. Only the words used are different, but in reality, this is the case. What are they being punished for? Did they “annex Crimea” as many of our partners say? No. This has to do with the pragmatic national interests of the United States, as its current leadership sees them.

Which brings us back to what I have already said, which is the need to work out common, uniformly understood and firm rules of conduct in the sphere of security and in the sphere of economic interaction. An awareness of this process is of course there. When I laid out my theses, if you will, in Munich in 2007, which have often been quoted in the years since, I incurred the anger of many of my colleagues who said it was too tough and inappropriate. But what was I speaking about? I said that the United States was spreading its jurisdiction beyond its national borders, and that this was unacceptable. This is exactly what is happening today, only it is happening to our European and other partners. Why is it happening? Because nobody wanted, as you said, to listen and nobody did anything to stem this trend. So there you are.

Andrei Kondrashov: They asked for it.

Vladimir Putin: Yes. “Dinner is served, enjoy…” as they said in a popular film, well, I will not quote it precisely because it sounds a bit rude, “enjoy your meal.”

But joking aside, what is important is that there is a growing awareness that it is necessary to sit down at the negotiating table and work out rules of behaviour acceptable to all, rules that will enable the world economy to develop effectively.

Kirill Kleymenov: Mr President, I think London is competing with Washington in terms of anti-Russia rhetoric. At some point London even seemed to confidently occupy first place in this. First, the Brits tried to deprive us of the right to host the World Cup but failed. Then the Skripal case caused a huge outcry all over the world.

I will forward one question on this issue. It came from student Anastasia Fedosova: “What does the Skripal case mean for Russia and will we respond to the accusation?”

Vladimir Putin: I have talked about this many times. I am not sure if I can add anything. If, as Britain claims, chemical weapons were used against these people, they would have died within several minutes on the spot. Thank God this did not happen. So this means we are dealing with something other than a chemical warfare agent. And we are eager to be granted an opportunity to have access to our citizens, Julia in this case, and take part in the investigation as a full participant. Without this it is difficult for us to comment on anything.

Andrei Kondrashov: Mr President, to continue on the issue of the anti-Russia sanctions imposed by the Brits, let’s consider the Russian business people that have large assets in the West and are now in big trouble. To use our word, they have begun to be nightmarised. Roman Abramovich, for one, has faced serious problems. Is this a new episode in the soap opera “The Rich Also Cry?” Incidentally, some of our viewers have asked for your advice.

Vladimir Putin: As for big Russian businessmen, I talked about this several years ago at a public meeting with representatives from business. True, it sounded pretty tough. I will not repeat word for word what I said then. It sounded but a bit rough -let’s put it that way.

But I warned them that developments like we are seeing today were possible. I advised our business leaders to keep their capital at home in Russia where it was made and use it to develop the Russian economy in order to ensure their financial security.

In 2008, when we had to deal with the infamous crisis in the world economy that originated outside our country, many of our large companies found themselves in dire straits because they had taken out a great number of loans from Western financial institutions and had to face margin calls.

Their collateral value dropped drastically and, according to their loan agreements, they had to either repay the loans immediately or add more collateral. Otherwise, they would lose their assets.

What did we do? We increased authorised capital for Vnesheconombank with a special law and took over their loans when many were ready to sell their companies for nothing. Prime Minister at the time, I said: “No, we will help you on certain terms. We will take over your loans and you will be able to pay them off later.” And that happened. When the economy stabilised, they repaid the debt and remained owners of their companies.

The Government reaped benefits because it took that action on certain terms. Overall, everything went well. But we did it, Russia did it, the Russian Government did that with regards to the assets of the companies it considered important for its national interests.

Who will help them abroad? If anything, they are being persecuted there. Conditions are being created for them that make it impossible to do business. This is also a big mistake of those who are doing it in the West. Because what will be the outcome of all these restrictions and persecution of our businesses?

For example, what will come of the complications with dollar transactions? It will undermine the trust of businesses, and not only ours. Everybody is watching what is going on. This is undermining trust in the economic policies of the leading world economies.

The dollar is a universal reserve currency today. The euro is trying to take over some of its functions and has succeeded in part. However, the dollar remains the only universal currency.

By restricting dollar transactions, the US Government undermines confidence in the dollar. Some fleeting results are possible, though still not guaranteed.

However, they think they can achieve positive results – political results, not economic, mind you. However, in the long term, these measures are undermining trust in this kind of politics.

So here we are. Everybody is thinking now about creating new and universal currencies. Everybody is thinking about doing transactions in national currencies. Essentially, they are biting the hand that feeds them. I believe it is counterproductive and damaging both for those involved and for the entire global economy. But I am certain this, too, shall pass.

Andrei Kondrashov: Let us give the floor to our colleague, Natalya Yuryeva, who is working at the message processing centre.

Vladimir Putin: By the way, sorry, I jotted down one of the questions. Some people think we should help Roman Abramovich and other Russian businessmen in this difficult situation, while others ask us when “these thieves” – they mention names – will bring their money back to Russia.

I would not talk now about those who break the law. We are talking about those who acquired their wealth legitimately. But both groups would live better in Russia, all the more so since we announced a capital amnesty twice, and we are doing this with the business community.

The system is imperfect and needs to be fine-tuned, which we are ready to do. I hope that members of our business community will respond accordingly.

Andrei Kondrashov: They tell me we have a call from one more writer. This seems to be a good day for writers.

Natalya Yuryeva, take the floor.

Natalya Yuryeva: Thank you, Andrei.

Our message processing centre has received a huge amount of questions about Ukraine over the past four years. They come from Russia, Ukraine and other neighbouring countries. But this time we received a question that our editors thought interesting, from a writer who has personal knowledge of the situation in Donbass. Let us watch a video we received from Zakhar Prilepin.

Zakhar Prilepin: Good afternoon. My name is Zakhar Prilepin. I am an adviser to the head of the Donetsk People’s Republic and an officer in the Donetsk army. It seems to us here that the Ukrainian army will take advantage of the World Cup to launch an offensive. Can you comment on this situation?

Vladimir Putin: I hope it will not reach the point of such provocations. And if this happens, I think it will have very serious consequences for Ukrainian statehood as a whole.

Once again, to emphasise, I expect that nothing like this will happen. It is impossible to intimidate people who live in these areas in Donbass, in the Lugansk People’s Republic, in the Donetsk People’s Republic. We see what is happening there, and see how people are enduring it all. We provide assistance to both unrecognised republics and will continue to do so. But what is happening with these territories in general is certainly sad.

On the other hand, this also suggests that the current Ukrainian leadership is unable to resolve this problem. How can they resolve it while at the same time considering these territories their own and organising a complete blockade of these territories? How is it possible to consider this territory and these people as your citizens and keep subjecting them to artillery attacks, causing civilians to suffer? Civilians suffer the most.

Now, the OSCE representatives have recorded an increase in these attacks by the Ukrainian forces. Why do this, when you just need to observe the Minsk Agreements? This is simply ridiculous considering the expected result – restoring the country’s territorial integrity. The longer and the further this goes the worse for Ukraine.

You know, sometimes it seems to me that the situation is deteriorating as Ukraine enters a new political cycle, including the upcoming Rada and presidential elections. I would like to stress this again: the current Ukrainian authorities, especially in these circumstances, are unable to resolve the LPR and DPR problem, partly because they do not need voters from these regions, because it is clear that they would never vote for the current government.

However, if the authorities are guided by their narrow political and economic interests, if they continue to rob their people and save their money in offshore accounts in case things go bad, noting good will ever come of it.

Let us see how the situation develops, and we will do our part to ensure that it is resolved within the framework of the Minsk process and the Minsk Agreements.

Andrei Kondrashov: Let’s move to Moscow City now. There are people there who wrote a day or two before Direct Line that they are popular bloggers who have a huge audience of tens of millions of people and that they were collecting questions from their subscribers and could forward the most popular ones. So we sent our correspondent Anton Lyadov to these bloggers, he is with us now.

Anton Lyadov: Good afternoon everyone! Today, perhaps for the first time in Direct Line history, we are working with representatives from the youth internet community. We have bloggers gathered at a spectacular venue with a beautiful view of Moscow, watching Direct Line from the very beginning, and commenting. Some of them upload pictures, some shoot videos.

Each of them has their own channel, where they post videos filmed on their phones, but today they use professional equipment. The important thing is that their total audience is about 20 million people. Just think of that! A huge figure. Pay attention, they are doing live reporting on the internet right now. That’s how it works.

Shortly before Direct Line they asked their audiences what they would ask the President. They have come here today with these questions.

Next to me is a representative of the internet community Gusein Gasanov. His overall audience is about 7 million people. This is Natalya Krasnova. She is from Chelyabinsk. Her audience is about 2 million people. Hello! Go ahead please.

Gusein Gasanov: Good afternoon, Mr President.

We have opinion leaders here today. I would like to ask a question. To share a concern. There are rumours on the internet about the planned shutdown of popular social networks such as Instagram and YouTube. What do you think about this? Is this a possibility?

Vladimir Putin: I understand your concern and understand the concerns of those that you work with on the internet. We are not going to shut anything down. I am well aware of the situation with Telegram.

What can I say? You are in your place and you just said that you are concerned. And I’m concerned in my place too, do you know why? I am concerned for people’s security. Suppose law enforcement agencies and special services report to me after a bomb attack on the St Petersburg metro that they could not track the terrorists’ correspondence, that they could not make a decision in time because it is encrypted, and the terrorists use this. How am I supposed to react to this? After all, security comes first, does it not?

At the same time, I used to work in special services and I know that it is easy to ban something, but it is more difficult to find civilised solutions. So, I will encourage
my colleagues to follow this path, the special services themselves and law enforcement agencies, to use modern investigation methods, to prevent terrorist attacks without limiting freedom, including on the internet.

Andrei Kondrashov: Another question. Can you hear us?

Natalya Krasnova: Good afternoon, Mr President. My name is Natasha Krasnova and I am from Chelyabinsk. I am 38 years old, and I consider myself a responsible adult. I have a PhD, but I currently work as a blogger, which is not a proper job in Russia. Will it someday become a proper job?

Vladimir Putin: Natasha, you said that you are an adult, although you look much younger. Honestly, I am surprised that you are 38 years old. You said that blogging should one day become a proper job.

But we know how bloggers earn their living: by advertising, right? And you seem to be good at this. Whether the job gets recognition or not, it is still your source of income and, probably, a good one, if you do this.

So if your question is about a legislative solution to provide social security for the future, perhaps we can talk about this. In fact, I think you are right, because, if it is a regular job, the state is interested in formalising it accordingly.

Andrei Kondrashov: Thank you, bloggers. Perhaps we will return to you today.

And now back to the call centre and Natalya Yuryeva.

Natalya, please.

Natalya Yuryeva: Thank you.

We are monitoring the reaction of people in social media. As of this moment, the number of posts with Direct Line’s hashtags has hit 550,000 and even higher. The most active users are in Moscow, followed by – we will see this in a moment – St Petersburg, my home city, and Tatarstan. We received another 918 messages while I was speaking.

I suggest taking a video call from… No, I am told that we have the latest post we can see now. It came through just now. The text says, “Without Putin, the problem with growing petroleum prices probably will not be resolved. Noting how much time it will take for 92ndto cost less than 45 roubles.” This is from Pyotr Shumatov.

And now I suggest taking an online video call.

Hello. Please, introduce yourself – tell us your name and where you are from, and ask your question.

Vladislav Khristolyubov: Good afternoon, Mr President.

Vladimir Putin: Good afternoon.

Vladislav Khristolyubov: Vladislav Khristolyubov, a lawyer from St Petersburg.
Everyone knows that Russia was one of two world powers with the technology to launch reusable spacecraft. We succeeded in launching the unique spacecraft Buran into orbit and safely landing it. In my opinion, energy and especially space are among the most important sectors for any economy. Therefore, if I had the opportunity to give all my strength to this common cause – to the maintenance and, most importantly, development of these industries – I would, without hesitation.

In this regard, I have a question. Is it possible to revive the space shuttle technology? And what are Russia’s general plans for expanding its presence in space? Thanks.

Vladimir Putin: Vladislav, you are certainly right. The development of outer space and space technologies is extremely important for any country, and even more so for our country, which has significant, maybe even unique competencies in this area.

It was no accident that the first satellite was Soviet, and the first man in space, Yury Gagarin, was our compatriot. These technologies continue to be developed and commercialised. In this respect we need to take many steps forward, including with regard to the quality of satellites, the quality of the equipment. We need to regain and firmly uphold our leadership in space launches. There is now competition in this sphere. Our French friends and partners use Guiana actively, while in Asia and the United States, space technologies are developing very rapidly. This is all very good and normal. We work with our partners, we have various plans. Despite all the difficulties, say, in relations with the US, American and Russian scientists are working together, working on the study of deep space, including planets like Venus.

We have our own programme, a very good programme. The is the new programme, Sfera, which envisages the launch of 600-plus satellites in the next few years that will deal with global positioning, Earth probes and communications. It will be a breakthrough altogether.
This is another area where we can make a breakthrough because the quality of communications with this technology makes it possible to replace cable and the new system wouldn’t be worse in quality and coverage but would be more cost-effective and accessible. As a whole, it could lead to a revolution in communications.

We have good programmes related to the development of deep space. By 2022, we plan to test a medium-class carrier rocket and by 2022 these should be launches
in an unmanned mode and by 2024, manned space vehicles should be used. In general, Russia has very ambitious space exploration plans.

I assure you, Russia will continue pursuing this path. It is not accidental that we have spent quite substantial funds and resources to create a new space port in the east of our country, Vostochny. We will develop it as a civilian component of our space exploration activities.

To be continued.