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24 Dec, 2009 10:21

Russia's President Dmitry Medvedev sums up results of the year

On December 24th, 12:00 [09:00 GMT] President Dmitry Medvedev delivered a speech about the events of the year 2009 live on Russia's largest TV Channels.

This year was very complicated with some very dramatic events, which have affected the whole population, President Medvedev stated in the beginning of the address.

2009 – A hard year

The president said that the main accomplishment was mere survival, but there were at least three more important things.

First, to keep social stability – the government fulfilled all its social obligations, made all the social payments, Medvedev said. Pensions grew significantly, and it was not just nominal growth. Nominally, pensions grew by one third, and practically increased by one forth.

Second, the president said that the Russian people had managed to provide financial security and stability in the country, despite some problems in 2009. But due to the efforts of the government, the national currency remained stable and all the national banks have not collapsed and continue to function.

The rate of inflation this year was 13%, and in the next year it will decrease dramatically down to only 9%, Medvedev noted.

The third achievement, according to Medvedev, was introducing the mechanism of state support for industry and enterprises. No major enterprises came to a halt, and bankruptcy was prevented. Those factories that stopped were still financially supported by government and all the social payments were made.

The President went on to say that some of the campaigns were not successful.

The Russian financial system is still based on raw materials, it is an obstacle in Russia’s development and this is the problem we have to solve. Of course, it is not something which can be solved within one year, and we will continue to resolve it.

Then, the innovations of the enterprises are very important, Russian industry can only develop on the basis of modern technologies.

In addition, Russian authorities failed to fully fight unemployment in the country. The program aimed to help this was elaborated, and it partly helped, but the problem is far from being solved, Medvedev said.

Sources of the crisis still there

Though most world economies have overcome the global crisis, its sources have not been eliminated, believes the Russian president. Over the year several meetings between heads of states, both in the framework of the G20 and the G8, focused on reforming the global financial architecture, but little has been done.

In Russia, the global problems were aggravated by domestic weaknesses of the economy, Medvedev said. In 2009, the Russian economy plunged by 8.7%, and the recovery is expected to be slow. Current forecasts range from 2.5% growth to 5% for the most optimistic scenarios.

The burden on the world economy is big, and the coming years will not be easy, Medvedev noted.

Modernization as a need for immediate change

Going back to the domestic problem of the urgent need to modernize the Russian economy, Dmitry Medvedev confirmed that a very hard time for the country’s economy has come.

“We are absolutely sure that, without urgent modernization, the Russian economy has no future, even with the enormous natural resources Russia has.”

First of all, Russia needs to learn how to use these resources properly, added the president.

“If we do not take any measures to follow the plan to go to high technology, to a new age economy, we will not be able to radically change our economy and will be more dependent on the cycling nature of the world economy.”

Russia’s equity market is very dependent and therefore volatile, Medvedev pointed out, and it needs modernization, too.

“There are five priorities for modernization: energy efficiency and creating new kinds of fuel, development of information technology, space technologies, healthcare and medicine production,” said Medvedev, and expressed the opinion that Russia needs a breakthrough in all of those areas.

Modernization through force is over

On the question of modernization, Medvedev seemed optimistic that Russia would be taking positive steps in the right direction.

“First the Russian nation is strong, well-prepared and smart. It is able to change itself, not through force, but because this is an internal goal.”

He used examples of other countries successfully developing democratically without force, and while acknowledging some good things have come from such an approach, forced modernizations are effectively dead.

“On the whole, other nations have been able to find strength and inner drive to develop, facing the necessity to become free and powerful. That is why the modernizations that were forced are a thing of the past. I do not deny the positive things that they have been able to bring, but we will pursue our own path.”

“Modernization must be based on efficiency and the people’s desire to change.”

President Medvedev also mentioned that a country as large as Russia cannot develop without modernization. “And those officials who understand this will work and will continue their work in government authorities,” the president said, adding, “While those, who chose to not understand this, who want to go with the flow – unfortunately they do exist on different levels of federal organs – will have to decide for themselves whether they need a break from governmental service. This kind of attitude is dangerous for the country. All innovations and reforms should be real.”

Dmitry Medvedev talked about his recently formed list of top managers with presidential backing: “Recently, I formed a list of people who could potentially hold high posts in Russia. Now, 28 of the first 100 have already been appointed. I am surprised myself; I did not expect it to work out that fast. And they are young modern people who really want to work.”

Concerning the political parties, the president said that they have to be responsible to their voters. “And the ruling party, or – as we call it in Russia – the party of power, is responsible for all that is happening in the country, for all the positive and negative events,” Dmitry Medvedev added.

Structure of the political system

The current political system in Russia is far from being settled, and Dmitry Medvedev keeps in contact both with political parties represented in parliament and those which are not, because all of them are backed by voters, so their opinion must be taken into consideration.

The president believes that any of the currently existing parties has a part to play in the foundation of the political system. It is hard to predict how many parties there will be in 10 or 15 years. There may be seven, or fifteen, or just two like in the United States. It is up to Russian citizens to make that decision.

Medvedev also commented on minor opposition movements which stated their refusal to have any contact with the current Russian leadership, like those headed by Garry Kasparov and Mikhail Kasyanov. He said he saw no problems with politicians who do not want to be part of the political system, as long as they obey Russian laws. “They represent someone’s interests,” he said, “even though I can’t help wonder whose.”

Police reform

Talking about the perception of police in Russia, Dmitry Medvedev said that there are a lot of problems, and Russian citizens have many concerns about the police.

“Today I am going to sign a decree regarding Russia’s Interior Ministry,” Medvedev stated. “It will contain some structural changes and reforms, and also touch on financial and legal aspects.”

The claims from people concerning the Russian police force are grounded, said the president, because people want to be protected by responsible people of high moral standards. Thus, some serious changes to the structure are required.

“I am sure we can create a very efficient structure,” he added, “Because a huge number of the police officers are honest and devoted people. Russia’s Interior Ministry has enough professionals that are able to fight crime and protect our interests.”

In addition, the president touched on the sad theme of police deaths, noting that over 300 police officers died in 2009 protecting the lives and wellbeing of Russian people.

Reform in penal system

Over the last few months Medvedev has fired a number of officials in the Russian penal system. When asked to comment on the spree of layoffs, he said it was necessary in order to put Russian jails in order.

“The system has not changed in decades, and there are a lot of shortfalls in its sector. Part of the problem is that people in the system don’t want changes, and it means new people have to come for reform to happen,” the president said.

The problem is that convicts are not compelled to become law abiding citizens in Russian jails, which in part defies the reasons for their existence.

“I read documents for presidential pardons and feel pity. A man stole a hat, which is worth $15, and is given two years. Why? Will he be a better man when he is released?”

The direction in which Medvedev wants the Russian penitentiary system to go is towards a more humanitarian approach to non-violent crimes. Such crimes require a better job done by investigators for their evidence to be accepted in court, not the illegal pressure on white-collar suspects.

And people found guilty of non-violent crimes don’t always need to be put in jail. There are other options used in other countries, and Russia should learn from them, Medvedev said.

At the same time, crimes against a person should be punished with all harshness. “There should be no pity for brainless thugs.”

The reform will be done both in the criminal code and in the prisons. This is an important part of maintaining social order and peace in Russia.

The president also commented on so-called “Basman justice” – a term referring to unjust court decisions taken under pressure from officials. While Medvedev doubted the accuracy of the term, the phenomenon is clearly a social evil, he noted. Such rulings must be overruled and those involved in the practice punished.

Pharmaceutical development is essential to the country

President Medvedev stressed the necessity to invest in and develop Russia’s pharmaceutical industry, calling it sad that only two or three of the 20 most popular drugs in Russia are produced in the country.

“The situation with medicine and pharmaceuticals is not perfect. People can see that when they go to drugstores. In the time of a flu pandemic this is especially true. We need to protect ourselves in this area. So what has happened? Only 20% is produced within the country, and 80% is imported. If there is a terrible pandemic we can be cut off.”

However, Medvedev believes it is within Russia’s capabilities to develop the industry, but stressed the need for serious investment

“We can produce them on our own. We need to restore our pharmaceutical industry and it must be done on the principles of mixed financing, government and private. We will be handling this.”

“In order to make and advance a new drug there needs huge investment, which requires millions of dollars, and we need investment into personnel.”

Medvedev also warned of the possible abuse by producers in hiking up prices and said that steps were being taken to combat high costs for the consumer.

“Apart from investment, we need to keep track of the situation on the medicine market. We should not allow people to become too arrogant. If they will try to sell at hiked-up prices, this will lead to a social explosion.”

“The Prosecutors Office has done its part as well as the Health Ministry. We are introducing new measures of pricing and control of the maximum amount that drugstores can charge.”

Medvedev said that pharmaceutical production was one of the five priorities that he has outlined.

We need to stop drinking first

Those who like drinking should take care of their health, President Medvedev declared. Considering the bad situation with drunk drivers in Russia, Medvedev shared that Russia is not ready to allow drinking, even in moderate quantities, behind the wheel.

“They cannot watch their health. This is a very delicate matter and you need to learn about it. When we will be ready – we will see.”

Migrant inflow to be strictly regulated

Another socially sensitive issue mentioned was migrant influx into Russia. Many of them are not prepared and adapted for life in Russia. Medvedev said that it is not natural for such a huge country as Russia to have such an insufficient labor force, so there is certainly a need for migrant workers. Around twelve million people come to work in the country every year, they do important tasks, often not very prestigious, that not every Russian citizen would be keen on doing. But the influx, the president noted, should be strictly regulated by the law. Not all the people who come get registered, but the registration should be strictly controlled, according to Medvedev.

“Measures should be taken for their social adaptation in Russia – they have to be able to speak Russian; their commercial activity should be in accord with our country’s law; they have to pay taxes; they have to undergo sanitary and medical control. So, if we are able to adjust the situation to these rules, their affairs will be transparent and very important for Russia,” the president said.

Improvements in North Caucasus region

The situation with the North Caucasus has to be normalized, Dmitry Medvedev emphasized, despite its complexity.

“We have learnt how to fight bandits over the last years,” he said, “But there are still some major problems, such as social disorder in the Caucasus republics.” The president claimed that the unemployment rate in North Caucasus is still high, and more job occupations need to be created.

A special federal program has been established to improve the situation in the Republic of Ingushetia, Medvedev reminded.

Painful army reform is necessary

Medvedev named three main problems of the Russian armed forces. Those are: aging hardware; low salaries; and outdated organization. The ongoing reform is to solve them all, and some decisions needed for it are painful.

At the same time, even with its problems, the Russian army has demonstrated its capabilities to “defend national interests and interests of our citizens, including the episode in South Ossetia,” Medvedev stressed.

Status of the Nevsky Express investigation

When asked about the ongoing investigation into the tragedy of the Nevsky Express, Medvedev expressed confidence that those responsible will be brought to justice.

“I am certain that those responsible will be found. I am sure that the investigation, together with law enforcement officers, will find and arrest those responsible and put them on trial. Our state is able to cope with such a task.”

Although, unable to share specific details, Medvedev said that, as a result of the investigation, precautions and safety measures will be taken to ensure greater security.

“Apart from the investigation, we have to look into the consequences and the causes of it. We have to think about how to provide security for the infrastructure. We have a huge network of railways and we have to take care of it. Such instructions of course will be given after the investigation, while some have already been given to certain agencies, and we will fund these.”

Nightclub fire

Concerning the Perm fire tragedy, the president asserted that the reasons behind it were negligence and lack of discipline on an incredible level.

“It is a mind-boggling idea to hold a fireworks show in an enclosed space,” he said, “Even non-educated people understand that it is extremely dangerous!”

Speaking of measures to prevent such tragedies from being repeated, Medvedev mentioned the current state ban on such events throughout Russia, and said that this should be established officially:

“We have to develop necessary laws and decrees; we also have to enforce control the fire protection service because it is they who were supposed to check out this club, but they did not. Why? Because someone got a bribe?”

“On the legislation level we have to control how all related laws are being carried out and who is responsible for their execution on the regional level,” added Dmitry Medvedev.

He also said that the Perm case is very illustrative, and that personally he considers this a crime with the heaviest consequences. “We have to sort the situation out, trying to prevent such tragedies from happening ever again.”

National spirit is not broken

The president was also asked a question about the strength of the Russian people. Has its mood has been broken now after the sequence of tragic events, or do they have the will to go on? Throughout Russia’s history the country has lost huge numbers of its best citizens through historic events and social experiments.

“Our country’s life has never been easy, and that is what shaped our national character,” Medvedev said. He spoke of different factors that the Russian people have always faced throughout history, from harsh climate conditions to numerous wars.

“I don’t think something totally radical has taken place in the last 150 years that could change the attitude of our people to life, that could break their will,” the president argued.

“If it were so, we would have lost the Great Patriotic War, we wouldn’t have been able to renew the country, and we wouldn’t even be able to manage the new state, which is, in fact, very difficult – we wouldn’t have had the forces to build a new state.”

The president noted that all the problems connected with the formation of a new state, with different borders, when some territories of the former huge country started to be other, separate states, didn’t break down the citizens, they overcame all that.

“I don’t think our spirit has been shattered – we still have a will for life,” he concluded.

Personal chemistry with Putin and Obama

Dmitry Medvedev reiterated that his relations with Prime Minister Vladimir Putin are “still special” as they were in the times of his presidency. They are like the relations of two friends and colleagues.

He also commented on the personal chemistry between Barack Obama and himself. He described the new American president as a strong politician and a good conversationalist.

“He can listen to you and respond to your arguments,” Medvedev said. Unlike some other US officials, he never said anything like “your position is interesting, but we have already decided everything.”

Nuclear reduction and nuclear shield

The progress on the new strategic arms reduction treaty to replace START is a very complex process, and it is being done quite fast, according to Medvedev. The resulting document will regulate the way Russia and the US will deal with each other in the nuclear sphere, so every comma in it must be scrutinized.

At the same time, when the document is ratified, it will not stop Russia from developing its strategic arms, the president said. It will certainly be done in accordance with international agreements, but Russia’s “nuclear shield” will remain an adequate deterrent to keep the country secure.

A nuclear-free world is a splendid goal, but it is a distant one, and other nations must join for it to be achievable.

Ukrainian presidential election

Moscow’s candidate for the presidential election in Ukraine “must be Viktor Yushchenko, judging from the fact that most of my statements on Ukraine related to the actions of the current president,” joked Medvedev. Earlier in his videoblog he put the blame for deteriorated relations between Russia and Ukraine on Yushchenko’s policies.

Taking a serious attitude, he said Russia cannot have “its candidate” in the Ukrainian election.

“Ukraine is an independent, sovereign state, where the president is chosen by the people. I am sure they can judge political declarations and the development of the ongoing election campaign,” Medvedev said.

He added that he hoped the next Ukrainian leader will take a more positive stance towards Russia and will take into consideration Moscow’s concerns.

Climate conference ended in nothing

The Russian president said he was not content with the result of the international conference on climate change in Copenhagen.

“It ended in a puff, an empty sound. Unfortunately, we didn’t come to an agreement. And it wasn’t Russia’s fault,” he said.

He added that developing green energy efficient technologies is a must for Russia, notwithstanding the real scale of global warming.

“Even if the forecasts of climate change turn out to be not that serious or irrelevant, we will still at least make our environment better.”

New gambling rules: law to be checked for loopholes

Medvedev commented on the speculations concerning the situation with the gambling business in Russia. After being banned, save for the areas specially allocated for it, the business, according to some, continues to thrive, but this time illegally.

The president called it an exaggeration.

“We curbed to a considerable extent this business which used to operate on different terms before,” he said.

“The four gambling zones have not started up yet, that is true, they need huge investments, but we are not going to invest money from the budget into that. Private investors will do that, but the decision about this business has not been cancelled.”

Medvedev admitted that some are trying to use a loophole in the law – like the so-called “instant-win lotteries” – where in fact the same gambling for money takes place, but under another name.

“These ‘clubs’ should be simply ‘swatted’ – we have to close them down,” the president believes. He said he would again give an order to carefully study through the law basis in order to fix the loopholes that make such clubs possible.

Footballing half-giants

Football was also on the agenda. Dmitry Medvedev said Russia’s football team started playing the game on a whole other level under Dutch coach Guus Hiddink.

“No matter what they say after that disappointing match, after Guus Hiddink’s arrival the team started playing differently,” the president said.

Russia failed to make it to the World Cup in South Africa after an unexpected loss to underdogs Slovenia in the playoffs. Medvedev was present at the stadium during the decisive match in Maribor, during which Guus Hiddink’s men lost 1-0.

Medvedev noted that “there were some pleasant events which boosted spirits and added some adrenalin.”

“By the way, we grew up in the football world… we are like half-giants of European football now. And if we talk about the clubs, things are even better,” he added.

In the end, the president answered several questions about his family, hobbies and plans for the New Year holidays.