VIDEO & TRANSCRIPT: [Putin] Meeting with students from Sirius Educational Centre (transcript continued from JRL#141)

Vladimir Putin file photo with VOA logo; screen shot from video still

( – July 21, 2017)

[Video of event with English translation]

Vladimir Putin met with students from the Sirius Educational Centre for Talented Children in Sochi….

[transcript appears below]

Question: Good afternoon, Mr President.

I am Kirill Lakhminov from Moscow. As you know, the world is on the verge of a breakthrough in biotechnology. I have a question. How prepared is Russian science and Russia for implementing incredible and sometimes crazy ideas in biotechnology?

Vladimir Putin: This is a key area of development in the near future along with digital technologies and artificial intelligence. I really hope that specialists working in this sphere will fully execute the tasks facing them. We will help them in every way we can.

I already mentioned that we have a system of grants and support, apart for the current financing of the relevant academic institutions. These mega-grants, including those connected with biology, bio-engineering, and so forth – I am not a specialist and cannot list all of them, hence I name the main, principal and most promising areas of research. But I meet with these people, though not regularly, but we have a whole division in the Executive Office that deals with providing support for science. We created funds that allocate grants and we will be monitoring this.

Academician Tamm used to say that if the 20th century was the century of physics, then 21st century will be the century of biology. It seems to be so.

Irada Zeinalova: Thank you.

Mr President, let us move to this sector, since the audience here is starting to look bored. Who has brief questions, so that everyone can have a turn?

Vladimir Putin: If we let everyone have a turn, we will spend all night here.

Question: Hello, my name is Marina. I am 16 years old. I cannot thank you enough for the opportunity to be here. I think that many in this audience have the same question in the light of recent developments. I would like to hear what you think about political competition in Russia and your assessment of some opposition activists.

Vladimir Putin: Here is what I think about this. There was a time when the number of parties was limited in our country. The law was engineered in such a way that in order to register a political party a number of conditions had to be met and meeting them was not so easy, if not quite challenging.

Several years ago, we radically eased these requirements. Today, there are several dozen registered political parties. By the way, there are practical people in politics who do not think that it was a good thing to do, arguing that it makes these political parties less responsible for what they say, what they offer and completely relieves them of responsibility for their work and fulfilling the pledges they make. This is not an easy matter. Anyway, we decided to opt for maximum liberalisation.

What is the value of political parties, even the ones that are not represented in the State Duma? They put forward ideas and criticise the authorities. There are always things the government can be criticised for. Life is complicated and diverse, so trust me no one can resolve all issues and come up with ideal solutions. No one can do that.

This does not mean, however, that we should not try. The issues at stake should not be a matter of speculation. What we need instead are proposals on ways of dealing with these issues. For example, corruption should not be a matter of speculation, since it exists across the world. It is true that in countries undergoing economic transition and where economic laws have yet to take root, the situation is more complex, which gives rise to corruption.

Look at what happened with our neighbours. The current government was voted into power on promises to fight corruption, but this was just one of the banners the opposition used to take over the country. Unfortunately, they chose to do it by staging a government coup. Now that they have the power, what are the results? There is even more corruption. Ukraine is choking with corruption from the top to the very bottom. This means that merely shouting ‘Catch the thief’ is not enough. The ones denouncing the thieves should also stop steeling.

For this reason, society in general, and I personally, look for people offering interesting and sometimes courageous breakthrough solutions that would enable Russia to move forward, regardless of whether they have power or not. There is no doubt that we will always work with people like that.

Question: Good evening, Mr President.

Vladimir Putin: You see, there is competition as we speak, the microphone is switching hands all the time.

Anna Negasheva: My name is Anna Negasheva, I represent the Yunost synchronised figure skating team. We are all present here today.

Vladimir Putin: Can I see all of you, girls?

How many of you are there on the team?

Anna Negasheva: There are 16 team members plus some substitutes.

Vladimir Putin: And all of you perform on the ice at the same time?

Anna Negasheva: Yes. This is, actually, what my question is about. Our team won the national championships 15 times, and in March 2017, we won the junior world championships in Canada.

Vladimir Putin: Congratulations.

Anna Negasheva: Thank you.

It is quite frustrating that this spectacular and wonderful sport that attracts so many people is unfortunately overshadowed by other sports. Very few people know about us, and not a single national television network is willing to broadcast competitions or even help promote this wonderful sport. Meanwhile, Russia is a world leader in synchronised figure skating. For example, Paradise, the team from St Petersburg, holds two world titles. Almost every Russian city has a synchronised figure skating team, including Kazan, Moscow, Yekaterinburg, St Petersburg, Salekhard and Perm.

Yegor Kolyvanov: So what is your question?

The kids are waiting. Go ahead and ask your question.

Anna Negasheva: My question is: what can we, athletes, do to change things so that synchronised figure skating finds its way into the Russian information space?

Vladimir Putin: I think that you have done everything you could by becoming champions. From here, it is no longer up to you, but up to government agencies and the leading national television networks to do their part of the job. But I do think that they will hear you, and I am on your side as well.

Anna Negasheva: There is one thing I wanted to ask you on behalf of the whole team, if I may. Could you make one of our dreams come true by taking a photo with us? It would be a great pleasure for us if you could pose for a photo on ice with our coaches and another four team members. We invite you to our gala performance, to be more exact, to a gala figure skating show tomorrow at Sirius’ ice arena. We would be very happy to see you there so you can experience the world of figure skating and fall in love with it, just as we did.

Vladimir Putin: You want me to look out of place with all of you? (Laughter) First Vanya, who can do 25 pull-ups, humiliated me, now you want me to look like a duck on ice, is that what you are saying?

I am joking, of course. It will be a pleasure for me to take a picture with you today, and maybe tomorrow, if I can.

You know, I am also learning to skate, although not in the same way as you. It is not easy for me, since I started skating only five years ago, or even four and a half years ago, to be more exact. I could not skate at all and could hardly understand how people do it. When I first tried skating four and a half years ago, I thought, now that I got moving, how do I stop? I finally managed it somehow. My second thought was that I would never learn to skate, would never be able to do it. I kept saying to myself, just take off your skates and stop this nonsense.

There is some progress, but the way you skate is still beyond my comprehension. I simply do not understand how this is possible. But you are showing us that you can do it. As for broadcasts, this is not an Olympic sport, right?

Anna Negasheva: There are now discussions about making it an Olympic sport. A special commission was created to examine rules for including synchronised figure skating in the 2022 Olympics programme.

Vladimir Putin: Yes, I know that, and I am confident that as soon as it happens, television networks will look at you differently. The authorities and I personally will try to make sure that you get the treatment you deserve.

Question: Good evening, Mr President. My name is Shamil Mukhtarov. I come from the city of Yelets in Lipetsk Region. I have the following question: what do you believe to be the key issues in agriculture that Russia is currently facing?

Vladimir Putin: There is an issue that is quite relevant for both cattle breeding and crop farming: Russia needs its own seed grain, its own foundation stock. Even though we are seeing robust growth rates in agriculture, we still depend on imported pedigree cattle stock and seed grain. This is something we should be paying special attention to in the near future.

Yegor Zaytsev: Hello, my name is Yegor Zaytsev, and I am from Kaliningrad. Russia is currently on the black list of countries with negative population growth. When will we get off this horrible list?

Vladimir Putin: It is not true that Russia has negative population growth. Quite the contrary.

Yegor Zaytsev: We are being told at geography classes that almost all regions have negative population growth, with only few exceptions.

Vladimir Putin: You are being misled. This is not the way things really are.

Yegor Zaytsev: Have things changed?

Vladimir Putin: When did you learn it?

Yegor Zaytsev: This year, or maybe last year.

Vladimir Putin: This is not true.

Yegor Zaytsev: When did the trend change?

Vladimir Putin: Two years ago.

Yegor Zaytsev: Thank you.

Vladimir Putin: Support measures for mothers and children have been in place for several years now. This, as well as substantial, albeit insufficient, improvements in healthcare, has increased life expectancy in Russia and substantially reduced infant mortality. Russia is now among the top countries with maternal mortality at almost zero, despite the fact that we adopted international standards for measuring newborn weight and a number of other indicators, which complicated the statistics. Russia is no longer in this downward spiral. For two years now, or even for a slightly longer period, Russia has reported natural population growth.

Question: Good evening, my name is Anastasia. Here is my question: how can we further develop the country, if the number of state-sponsored scholarships is declining, while the cost of education is increasing?

Vladimir Putin: The number of state-sponsored scholarships is not declining.

Remark: I have the statistics.

Vladimir Putin: No, the number of scholarships is on the rise.

Question: Hello, my name is Anastasia. I am from Novy Urengoy. It is no secret that it is hard for university graduates to find a job, since all employers require experience, but how can a graduate obtain this experience, if you cannot get a job without it? I know that attempts are already being made in Russia to resolve this issue. For example, the company where my parents work holds a contest for young specialists with an employment grant as a prize.

My question is the following: could the Government offer tax benefits to companies that hire a certain number of young specialists? Perhaps 10 or 15 first-time employees or some other number.

Thank you.

Vladimir Putin: Regarding tax benefits, this may not be the best solution. There are many issues. If we try resolving all of them with tax benefits, we would destroy the budget, it would simply cease to exist.

That said, something has to be done. A programme for working with the economy, businesses and corporations has been devised to address this. For instance, this is one of the items on the agenda of the Agency for Strategic Initiatives. We also keep in touch with business associations. We promote internship programmes so that corporations and higher education institutions can work together on selecting and training potential employees. This is a major initiative, and I very much hope that it works.

Question: Hello, my name is Yegor, and I am from Sochi.

You have told us that you seek to support gifted school students in Russia. In doing so, you are trying to help students from all across Russia. If that is so, why do only Moscow students get prize money for winning academic Olympiads? Starting this year, winners of national academic Olympiads from the regions are no longer entitled to prize money, while these prize earnings for Moscow students have increased. Is there a way to fix this situation?

Vladimir Putin: To be honest, I have not quite understood the question. An academic Olympiad is what it is, if you win, you get a prize. Is it not the case, if you are from Sochi?

Remark: Prizes are not being paid starting this year.

Vladimir Putin: How come? You mean, if a student wins a national academic Olympiad, he or she is told: “Since you are from Sochi, step aside.” Is that so?

Remark: Yes. From 2006 and until 2016, runner-ups received 30,000 rubles, and winners got 60,000 rubles. But this year the system stopped working.

Vladimir Putin: What about Moscow students?

Remark: In Moscow, runner-ups get 100,000 rubles, and the winner gets 200,000 rubles.

Vladimir Putin: This is the first time I hear about this. I will look into it. Yet, this seems a bit strange.

Remark: This is the way things are.

Vladimir Putin: I mean, I can hardly imagine such a situation. You compete in a contest, say in an academic Olympiad, you win, and then they tell you that since you come from Sochi, you will not be paid.

Remark: This is not just about Sochi, but also about all other cities.

Remark: Yes, all the regions, except Moscow.

Remark: It seems that Moscow students get payments from the city budget.

Vladimir Putin: I will have to look into this. To be honest, this is the first time I hear about this.

Remark: Thank you.

Vladimir Putin: Maybe you are referring to the prizes that are paid by the regions, and Moscow still pays them. I will find out.

Vlad Belkin: Mr President, my name is Vlad Belkin, and I am from Orel. Here is my question: there are many children in this studio from all across the country, and they all have specific interests to which they dedicate their time and efforts during off-school hours. Some dream of becoming actors, while others want to become Olympic champions. I would like to ask what you did for extra-curricular activities when you were still in school?

Vladimir Putin: What did I do after school?

Vlad Belkin: Yes.

Vladimir Putin: Mostly sports. I sometimes went to classical music concerts, and occasionally read history books.

Vlad Belkin: What were your favourite school subjects? I mean, what were you interested in, and what subjects were boring for you?

Vladimir Putin: There were various subjects I preferred at various times, depending on my future life plans. As I have already said, at a certain point I switched to a specialised school, thinking that I would go on to enrol in a technology university. When I had this in mind, I focused on the relevant subjects. I later decided to go to law school and focused on history and foreign language studies. But I always had time for sport.

Question: Hello, Mr President. I come from the city of Zadonsk, Lipetsk Region. My name is Vladimir Vladimirovich, just like you.

Vladimir Putin: A story from my university years just came to mind. We had a professor, Avksentiy Melitonovich, who taught collective farming law. There was this discipline in those days. Since there were collective farms back then, there was an area of law covering them. So, a student shows up for an exam in collective farming law. The professor looks into his grade book and says, “Your name is Avksentiy Melitonovich?” The student answered affirmatively. The professor looked at the grade book again, then again at the student, then gave the student an A and sent him on his way. The professor was a very nice person.

So, Vladimir Vladimirovich, I am listening.

Question: For two years now, I have been attending a rocket modelling class, offered by a youth activities centre in Zadonsk. We make paper rocket models and launch them using a solid-fuel engine to an altitude of 200 to 300 metres.

The problem is that over the past two years, we have not received any financing. I asked around, and it turns out that youth centres in other regions are also receiving very little financing, so students have to pay in order to keep attending these workshops. Can this be fixed? Can you help us?

Vladimir Putin: This is a regional issue. Where are you from? Can you say it again?

Remark: The city of Zadonsk, Lipetsk Region.

Vladimir Putin: I will have to ask your governor to pay attention, since extra-curricular activities are financed by municipalities. Unfortunately, there are many issues in this area. This is true. However, you have a very experienced governor, Mr Korolev. He has been in office for a long time, and I think that he can figure out what to do to improve things.

Remark: Thank you very much.

Vladimir Putin: What do you launch? Rockets?

Remark: Rocket models. This is the rocket modelling division of the aero-modelling sport.

Vladimir Putin: This is great, since all our remarkable engineers also started with modelling, and later went on to become world-class experts. Best of luck to you!

Remark: Thank you.

Question: Hello, Mr President,

My name is Robert, and I am from Kazan. I am here as a science student, but I also do karate. I would like to know whether there are any plans to organise a karate training camp within Sirius?

Vladimir Putin: What kind of training camp are you talking about?

Remark: Training camps for students of karate.

Vladimir Putin: We have thirteen disciplines, including four sports disciplines. In fact, there are three sports disciplines at Sirius: hockey, figure skating and chess. So far, there are no plans to expand this list.

As I said at the outset, I conceived Sirius with the idea that we have to focus on areas where we have a clear competitive edge and are unrivalled, where we have an internationally recognised level of competence.

Unfortunately, this has not been the case for karate so far, but I am confident that with your help and with the help of children who take karate, we will get there.

Remark: Karate became an Olympic sport in 2016.

Vladimir Putin: There are many Olympic sports. There is no way we can have them all at Sirius. This does not mean however that there is no need to develop karate as a sport. This is a very interesting martial art. There is no doubt that we will support it, especially since it is now an Olympic sport.

Remark: Thank you very much.

Vladimir Putin: Give the microphone to the girl over there, or she will break into tears.

Question: Good evening, Mr President. My name is Alyona, I am from Moscow, and enrolled in the Sirius’ New Materials programme. I have a personal question for you. Could you tell us what was the happiest and the most unusual moment in your life? You have said so much tonight about time. Do you have time in your day for happy or unusual moments to occur?

Vladimir Putin: This is not an easy question. Could you answer it yourself if you were asked the same question? There are a lot of happy moments, so it is really hard to tell which one was the happiest. As a general rule, these moments are usually related to achievements, victories and life choices. These are the moments you remember, so I think that even if a victory is small, it still matters, since it helps shape a person’s character and identity. For example, I have mentioned that I remember competing one time in some tournament at pretty basic level. It may not seem like such a remarkable event, but it was then that I first started believing in myself, and finally understood that I have the ability to overcome many challenges. There were quite a few moments of this kind in my life. I hope that more are to come, and I would wish this to be the case for all of you.

Irada Zeinalova: We have the results of the survey. As you may remember, at the beginning of our talk we decided to find out what VKontakte users consider most pertinent, how well we understand them, how well they understand us, and how much we have in common. Let us take a look: family, friendship, freedom, health, jobs, well-being. Family ranks first, as you can see. And today’s generation of VKontakte users value the same things that you hold dear.

Now, I would like to say that our conversation turned out to be very serious and informative, even for me for the most part, and although I always thought of myself as a well-informed person, I learned a lot from these children.

We started the exchange with a question from one of the youngest participants, one of the youngest students of this educational centre. Now we would like to finish our conversation, as, frankly, we are running out of time and you probably have some state meetings on your schedule. We would like to close the excahnge with a question from a participant of the programme “You Are Super!” It is a music show whose participants are children left without parental care, or orphans, as we call them. This little boy came from the Trans Baikal region. We have tried to make all participants’ dreams come true, but we were unable to make Vitaly’s dream come true as it is beyond our control. He is in the studio now. Vitaly Tolochkin – here he is. He has a dream that only you can make come true; to be more precise, it is already coming true. Vitaly, tell us about your dream.

Vitaly Tolochkin: My dream is to meet Vladimir Putin.

Vladimir Putin: And has it come true?

Irada Zeinalova: Let us capture the moment; let us take a photo of you together. Go stand by the President.

Vladimir Putin: Let us take a photo together now. Come on up here.

Irada Zeinalova: Come over here. Do you have a phone? Let me take a photo of you together. Fabulous!

And do you have a question for the President? Go ahead and ask it.

Vitaly Tolochkin: My question is, what did you dream of in your childhood, and what do you dream of today?

Vladimir Putin: You know, this is not an easy question actually. One’s dreams constantly change as one evolves. When I was a little boy, I dreamt of one thing, when I got a bit older I dreamt of other things, and so on. This is normal. We have to be grateful that we have dreams. Because this is a kind of beacon, a sign that we have to make progress in our lives in order to make our dreams come true. And if our dreams change a bit along the way – that is fine. The main thing is to have a dream. It is my wish that your dream comes true.

But before we finish – although this is a good final question – to make things fair, we will do the following: I will take one question each from this sector, this one and this one.

Question: Mr President, I am Olya, I am from Fryazino, in Moscow region.

I think that my question is relevant for the entire science sector. Maybe not the entire section, but part of it. The list of academic competitions and Olympiads recommended by the Ministry of Science and Education includes 87 Olympiads and two or three conference-type competitions where participants are allowed to present their projects. In fact, no special benefits are provided to those who develop projects, although one specific project can change thousands of lives. Our children successfully present rather serious projects on a global level. They are already preparing for the Unified State Exam and preparing for enrolment at universities, but there are 87 Olympiads and only two or three competitions, you see. Are there plans to do something about this or change anything?

Vladimir Putin: We can expand the number of these competitions. Let us think about how we can do this. Why not?

A remark: Only recently, our team has returned from the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair that took place in the United States, and it is a shame that these 11th grade boys have to take entrance exams right after returning, and imagine how difficult it is for them, despite their projects being very impressive.

Vladimir Putin: Let us give this some thought and increase the number of competitions.

A remark: Thank you very much.

Question: Mr President, good evening. I am Mikhail, and I am from Belgorod. What prompted you to run for president? Have you achieved the goals you had set when you became President?

Vladimir Putin: I have already spoken about it, but I will say it again: I did not plan on becoming president, and nothing had prompted me to do this. But Russia’s first president Boris Yeltsin invited me when I was Director of the Federal Security service – or already Secretary of the Security Council, I do not remember quite exactly – and said that he wanted to nominate me to the post of prime minister, so that I could later run for presidency.

I instantly told him: “Mr President, I am not ready for this! I would have to change my life completely – and I am not ready for this.” He thought a little, and said, “Give this some thought. We come back to this later.” But then he did nominate me at the State Duma, as they are the ones who vote for the prime minister. I became Prime Minister, and then things eventually proceeded from there to the presidential election campaign.

As for reaching my goals, you know, you have to set ambitious, challenging goals. Overall, I think they have been reached or are being reached. This primarily concerns economic development. However hard it may be, our economy has grown almost twofold. The real income of the population has increased many-fold, despite our current difficulties. There has been a bit of a reduction in real incomes, but now this is on the rise again. Compared to the year 2000, the situation with people’s incomes, wages and pensions has considerably changed.

These are serious, adult matters, but I will speak of them anyway. By 1999, our Armed Forces had actually fallen apart. Now we have a totally different Army. It is compact and efficient. There is much that still needs to be done – but there are plenty of reasons to to believe that we will reach these goals and solve the tasks facing our country.

Question: Good evening. My name is Ksenia. I am from Ulan-Ude. My question is, are the environmental issues facing Lake Baikal being resolved?

Vladimir Putin: They are. There are many issues there, including those dealing with the shutdown of the pulp and paper plant. Not all these issues have been resolved, of course. This is a very sensitive matter.

The main issue is probably that the chemical discharges of the agriculture enterprises that operate on the shore or close to the shore eventually find their way into the lake, with rainfall or just by themselves. There is work to be done, and on a large scale. There are also other issues, which must be resolved.

We know about these things and the corresponding structures at government and regional administration level are considering them, and proposing various solutions. We will not leave these matters unattended.

A remark: Thank you very much.

Question: Mr President, my name is Alyona, I am from Serpukhov. Thank you very much for all you do for us and our country. I am learning to become a painter, and we have an issue that concerns many painters like me. To be a professional watercolour painter, one needs quality materials, such as paper. We need paper made of 100 percent cotton. Now we purchase paper produced in England, Germany, France, with one sheet costing about 500-700 rubles. I know that in Soviet times, our Goznak enterprise manufactured such paper of very high quality. Can this production be restored today?

The second question concerns paintbrushes. Until recently, we purchased domestically produced Kolinsky sable brushes from a company called Baikal. They are of a very good quality and give the best value for money on the market. But in the past six months, their price has grown from 400 to 2,500 rubles. How is it that goods produced in Russia are now becoming unaffordable for us?

Vladimir Putin: Of course, this has to be examined. As a rule, this is explained by, say, change in exchange rates and that some components have to purchased abroad. Maybe these brushes are assembled here and some parts are bought from other countries, and such purchases have become more pricey as the ruble lost value. This is the most likely cause, and these explanations are rather basic. But this has to be looked into, we have a special agency that handles such issues – the Federal Anti-Monopoly Service. I will tell Mr Artemyev about this to draw his attention.

Secondly, as regards paper, this domestic production sector is actively developing, and we have considerably reduced foreign purchases, but this primarily concerns the paper used for printing newspapers and magazines. Your issue is a very specific one; we will see what can be done here. Okay?

Question: Hello, Mr President. My name is Margarita, and I represent the Sirius figure skating programme. International relations are a very important topic these days. Have you ever considered creating a centre that would bring together children from various countries so that Sirius students could interact with children from other countries? I think that this is an interesting idea that would be popular among children.

Vladimir Putin: We have a centre with a mission of this kind. I am referring to Artek. There is also the Orlyonok children’s centre, and the Okean children’s centre in Russia’s Far East. In fact, the idea behind Sirius was to bring together young talented children from Russia in the key areas of science, art, education and sport in order to create the necessary conditions and accompany them once they finish secondary school, specialised and higher educational institutions right until they are employed by institutes or companies, join research or artistic teams. This is about the Russian elite who will hopefully come not only from Sirius, but also from elsewhere. This effort is primarily aimed at shaping a national elite. We can and we will maintain contacts with similar centres in other countries, although there are no centres of this kind anywhere else, but we will still look for partners. Of course, inviting someone to Russia is always a possibility, but overall we will focus on Russian children, our young generation and teenagers.

Remark: Thank you very much.

Vladimir Putin: I see that a girl has stood up over here. Since you are already standing, go ahead.

I wanted to give you the microphone, but the girl is already standing. What can I do? Go ahead, I am listening.

It is your birthday today? Then we will surely take your question. Who else has a birthday today?

Remark: Over here.

Vladimir Putin: Go ahead.

Question: My name is Yevgenia, and here is my question:

Mr President, what do you think about feminism?

Vladimir Putin: You see, feminism emerged quite a long time ago as a movement to promote women’s rights. Overall, there is nothing bad about it. On the contrary, I believe that defending women’s rights is the correct approach and the right thing to do.

You know, there is a question that we always discuss in various international formats. I am referring to education for girls. This is a major issue for many countries, where girls are unable to go to school due to religious or cultural traditions. For example, I spoke to one of my colleagues for whom I have great respect. He comes from a Muslim country and has already left office. He said, “What are we doing? By denying women and girls a decent education we are cutting off so many opportunities with our own hands.” That said, this is an issue for a number of countries, but not Russia.

We have issues of a different nature when it comes to women’s rights. This has to do with wage disparity. This is an issue not only for Russia, but also for a number of other economies. For example, the same happens in the European Union. Over there, women on average make less than men do. These are statistics, and nothing else. For this reason, there is no doubt that we have to work on this problem. However, just as with any other area, it should not be twisted or distorted in any way, so that no one loses his mind over it, as has sometimes been the case.

Let us do it this way. I will answer the questions of those who are celebrating a birthday today.

Irada Zeinalova: Mr President, I am all for equal rights, education and birthdays. Presents have already arrived, my arms are sore holding them; I will place them here now.

Vladimir Putin: So you knew there were birthdays!

Irada Zeinalova: Yes, I have a list of four people who are celebrating their birthdays.

Question: My name is Alexander. I am From St Petersburg and a student of the Presidential Physics and Mathematics Lyceum No 239.

Question number one. Is the President going to visit the presidential lyceum at least once?

A remark: Let us all ask one question.

Vladimir Putin: That is right, fight for your rights, hold that microphone.

Seems like everything that is happening has to do with the President, one way or another. I mean, everything good, of course. That is why this is not about the name but about how well your lyceum is run.

Unfortunately, I am unable to visit every place where events are held under the name of or on behalf of the President, or that has something to do with the name of the President. I wish you lots of success. This is a very good educational institution. If I have the opportunity, I will be happy to visit your lyceum. Fine?

A remark: And a related question.

As is known, our lyceum teaches future scientists. It is known that the most prominent scientists and athletes receive different pay and have a different quality of life. This is especially obvious in the Russian Federation. I personally know astronomers who work at the Pulkovo Astronomical Observatory and they live on a very strict budget. How can we change this? Tell us, please.

Vladimir Putin: Wage levels should be increased in all sectors. But they cannot be the same for everyone. As for the fact that they barely make ends meet – this is bad; if this is so, the issue has to be examined. We have a programme for increasing wages in higher educational institutions and in the research sector. The task has been set to bring these wages to double the average wage in the country by 2018, if I remember correctly. We will continue to make efforts to achieve this, I hope, this will be the first step. But this is not all, wait, I will take my answer further, and this is serious. It is necessary that heads of research institutions and higher educational institutions become aware that their wages and wages of common staff members should not differ so greatly. Sadly, this is what we have in many cases today. Therefore, we have to introduce certain adjustments to avoid this.

Who else has a birthday today?

Go ahead, please.

Question: Good evening, I am Yury Safronov, and today is my birthday.

We know that you have a Volga car. Do you want to make it unmanned?

Vladimir Putin: Unmanned?

A remark: Yes, and our team is ready to handle this.

Vladimir Putin: Will my Volga remain intact?

A remark: It will.

Vladimir Putin: Good. It is a deal then.

A remark: This would be an excellent present for all of us.

Vladimir Putin: Good.

And what will we do with this unnamed vehicle? That is, with my Volga as an unmanned vehicle?

A remark: We will have it drive on its own.

Vladimir Putin: Where to?

A remark: Wherever you like.

Vladimir Putin: Will we put it to work as a taxi, make some money?

A remark: Yes, if that is what you wish.

Vladimir Putin: Good. But it will be a joint project then – my Volga and your unmanned device. We will think how it can be used. But fine, it is a deal.

A remark: Great. Looking forward to this.

Vladimir Putin: Who else has a birthday today? You? Fine. What is your name?

A remark: I am Roman.

Vladimir Putin: How old are you turning?

A remark: 16.

Vladimir Putin: Where are you from?

A remark: From Tula.

Vladimir Putin: And what is your question?

Question: Are there plans for launching a targeted nationwide programme for dealing with and recycling domestic glass waste with the use of automatised devices – and if this is planned, then when?

Vladimir Putin: I do not know. Now, that is quite a question. Recycling of glass, right?

A remark: Plastic and glass domestic waste, glass containers, and things like this.

Vladimir Putin: Look, we have a separate programme for municipal solid waster treatment. The program is operating, and, among other things, it provides for separating waste into different categories, including plastic. In this sense, yes, we have such a programme. It only has to be expanded and provided with additional financing. We have plans to build several plants, most of them in Moscow Region, because this is the region where the situation is especially serious. Nearby is the huge city of Moscow, with all the waste removed from there to Moscow Region. But we also have to plan the building of plants in Crimea and in a few other regions, and will definitely do this and take efforts in this regard.

Go ahead.

A remark: Let this be the final question.

Vladimir Putin: Our colleagues from NTV are having problems as this is broadcast live and they have scheduled programmes that need to go on the air.

Yegor Kolyvanov: Mr President, it is you who is having problems as you have four presents to give.

A remark: And tomorrow’s birthdays are beginning already.

Vladimir Putin: I will have a problem in one hour. I have a meeting with President of Azerbaijan.

Remark: Good evening, Mr President!

Vladimir Putin: Is it your birthday today?

Remark: Tomorrow.

Vladimir Putin: Tomorrow? Return the microphone then. (Laughter).

Remark: He is a person of the future!

Vladimir Putin: But we have agreed to listen to those who are celebrating their birthdays today.

Good evening!

Remark: My name is Ashot Shidnyan, I am from the Republic of Sakha (Yakutia).

Vladimir Putin: Ashot from Sakha (Yakutia)?

Remark: Yes.

Vladimir Putin: Are you freezing there?

Remark: No, it is fine there.

I would like to ask a question on the formation of a national sponsored team of young scientists and researchers who would represent our country at all international conferences and fairs. Is it possible to organise something like this? And how do you see the selection process for such a team? Thank you.

Vladimir Putin: Look, we have national teams in various fields. And they are very successful. I do not quite understand why we need a national team of this kind. If we create such a team, it would mean members would have to perform somewhere and compete with similar national teams – but are there any teams like this in the world? Have such national teams been created? National teams are created based on their main field of activity – mathematics, physics, artificial intellect, biology.

Yegor Kolyvanov: Mr President, they need funding, they want the state to finance the creation of this smart team.

Vladimir Putin: Everyone wants state financing.

Remark: For instance, I have an invitation for the Intel international fair. But the Step to the Future programme, which has issued the invitation, does not provide any financing, of course, and the cost is about 300,000 rubles.

Vladimir Putin: I will speak to Governor Yegorov. He will help you.

Irada Zeinalova: Mr President, it appears that all those celebrating birthdays today have asked their questions.

Vladimir Putin: Does no one else have a birthday today? Has everyone asked a question?

Irada Zeinalova: Everyone. Even a future birthday boy got his chance.

Vladimir Putin: Is it your birthday today?

Remark: Here is the boy.

Vladimir Putin: You call him a boy? Well, then he is quite a big lad, isn’t he.

What are you saying?

Remark: It is not my birthday today, but my father’s. Happy birthday dad!

Vladimir Putin: Your father’s? Pass him the microphone then, please. We have agreed, let us keep this fair.

So has everyone asked their question?

Irada Zeinalova: And a family discussion has already begun. All of today’s and tomorrow’s birthday people have already spoken.

Vladimir Putin: Guys, we cannot stay with you until morning just simply due to certain technological matters related to television programming and due to my schedule.

I am of course willing to speak to you some more and answer all your questions, but it is just not possible. All right? Do not be angry, please. We may have the opportunity to see each other at Surius, and not just once. I will try to visit Surius on a regular basis.

Irada Zeinalova: Mr President, I am positive that these children will have every reason to meet with you, as they are very success-oriented.

Thank you very much for this serious conversation, without making allowances for the fact that they are children. Thank you very much for these presents as well. Those who are celebrating your birthdays, feel free to come and collect them.

Vladimir Putin: I will sign them now.

Irada Zeinalova: Come here, all of you. These are real, big and good books.

Yegor Kolyvanov: Let us all congratulate them.

Irada Zeinalova: Give us your mobile phones. We will take pictures for each of you.

Yegor Kolyvanov: Do you need any help?

Irada Zeinalova: Frankly, not really, but it would not hurt. This will be quite a memorable birthday for them.

Mr President, these are cunning kids, and very ambitious at that, and they will definitely be successful in life. They received the books, and had their photos taken by a professional photographer, and will have their photo taken with you.

Vladimir Putin: I would say they are smart, rather than cunning, quite smart.

Irada Zeinalova: Yes, they grasped the situation fairly quickly.

Vladimir Putin: Now we will take some photos with the birthday people and wish them happy birthdays.

I want to thank you all for your professional attitude. You gained the right to arrive here in Sirius – and this means you are successful and talented, and you have a bright future. I want to thank you for this and for today’s talks.

I would like to express my hope that many more children like you will arrive here. You come from all territories and regions of the Russian Federation. And I want to express hope that you will feel that you have gained another family here, a Sirius family, and that you will support each other after you leave this centre. I also want to wish all of you success in achieving your goals and implementing everything you want to devote your life to.

I wish you happiness and good luck! Thank you very much.

[featured image is file photo from different occasion]