`Russia is not Iraq and can defend itself and its interests`
The Russian President has used his annual Question and Answer session to highlight the need for a strong military, in light of his country’s vast energy resources.
In a wide-ranging session, which lasted around 3 hours, Vladimir Putin also foreshadowed Defence Ministry steps if no consensus is found over U.S. plans for an anti-missile shield, said it was impossible to censor the internet and praised the Russian football team.
One question related to a statement by former U.S. Secretary of State, Madeline Albright, suggesting Siberia was too vast and wealthy to belong to Russia alone.
President Putin replied that he wasn't familiar with the statement, “but I do know that such ideas are nurtured by certain politicians in the West. As I see it, such a political erotic, as I would call it, would bring some people pleasure, but would hardly result in positive outcome. And the best example of this are events in Iraq. Thank God, Russia is not Iraq. Russia has enough arms and resources to protect itself and its interests, domestically and internationally. And certainly, such statements by Western politicians confirm that all that we are doing now to both our army and navy, are the right things and we will continue to do so”.
Vladimir Putin wants a timeline set for troops to be withdrawn from Iraq.
“Fighting against the people is useless,” he said.
“As concerns Iraq, one of their objective is, as I see it, to take control of Iraqi oil reserves,” the President noted.
A Kaliningrad resident suggested that the region, which forms a western enclave, could take part in a response to the U.S. anti-missile shield planned for Poland and the Czech Republic.
“First of all, we must together with our American and European colleagues determine the nature and assets of those possible missile threats: is there such a threat from Iran, from North Korea, or from some terrorist organisations in other countries. Maybe this threat does not exist. And secondly, we have proposed to set up a clear and understandable mechanism of access to a future anti-missile defence system, so that we understand who controls it and what role Russia will play,” Vladimir Putin noted.
If no consensus is reached on the issue, the President said, Russia will take certain steps planned by the Defence Ministry to ensure its own national security.
In a question submitted via SMS, Mr Putin was asked why he went to Iran this week, despite an assassination threat.
“I think there were attempts to foil my visit to Iran. I think the attempt to assassinate me is, of course, harmful to international communications, because a direct dialogue with the leadership of those countries which have problems is always very productive and is a shorter way to success rather than the politics of threats, sanctions or forced pressure,” the President commented.
One of the users wondered if he would be able to explore the web freely in future.
“We don't have any Internet censorship in Russia. To be more precise, the content of the dot-ru zone is not censored. I don't think it's possible technically. Of course we have to make sure that Russian laws are observed in this environment, like in any other. We must prevent child pornography, financial crimes on the Internet. But it is the job of law enforcement bodies, and here we must draw a line between total control and the job that the law enforcement bodies do,” the President responded.
A clerk from Kazan asked about the President's recent decision to head the list of candidates for the United Russia party in December's parliamentary elections.
“Recollect the beginning of the 1990s and the mid-90s. Due to having an incapable State Duma, it was impossible to make any adjusted decisions. In 2007 and 2008 we have both the presidential and parliamentary elections to the State Duma. Next year there will be another person in the Kremlin. In these circumstances it is crucial to preserve the stability of our state's development, to preserve continuity in implementing decisions made recently. Thus it is crucial that the next parliament is a viable one and the key element to that in previous years has been the United Russia Party. Precisely because of that I have agreed to head its electoral list,” Mr Putin underscored.
Another person asked how to become president. According to Mr Putin, it's easy: “Take part in the elections and win!”
Far East investment.
A woman from Russky Island, in Russia's Far East, asked about the communications problems there. She claimed that there is just one ferry to the mainland, and it's vulnerable to bad weather.
Vladimir Putin assured that the Government is planning to invest heavily into all the Asian areas of Russia. He announced that Russky Island will host the summit of APEC countries in 2012. By that time, a bridge and the needed infrastructure will be built. The event will also help draw private investment to the region from Russia and abroad, he said.
A factory worker from Ekaterinburg reminded the President about the recent elections in Ukraine and asked about how the countries will co-operate after the new Ukrainian government will come to power.
“Relations with former Soviet Republics are a top priority of Russia's foreign policy. Concerning Ukraine, the two countries are very close. Russian-Ukrainian relations should develop on a pragmatic basis, bearing in mind the interests of both sides. If we speak about energy supplies, they also have to be provided on a market basis. And no matter what kind of government comes to power in Ukraine after the election, I hope that our relations will continue to develop,” Mr Putin answered.
World Trade Organization.
A farmer from the Voronezh region in Russia's south was concerned about subsidies for agriculture after Russia joins the WTO.
The President promised that Russia would not join the WTO on unsuitable conditions. He said that there will be quite a long transition period of government subsidies to Russian farmers to let the industry develop. At the same time, WTO accession will make world markets more open for Russian producers. The President also said that Russia, with its vast territories, will have a competitive advantage in the future, because of the development of bio-fuel technologies. He hinted that the country's agriculture industry will be able to join the oil and gas sector, supporting Russia's role of a leading energy producer.
A man from a village in the Southern Republic of Dagestan bordering Chechnya, asked when order will be restored in the Northern Caucasus.
Mr Putin replied that the government had been doing a lot to tackle the problem with a certain degree of success. He mentioned that the number of terrorist acts in Russia has dropped from some 200 in 2005 to just 25 this year. He also said that the key to eradicating terrorism completely is the support of the local population. In Chechnya the people are tired of bloodshed and war, Mr Putin explained. They want peace and stability. So now international terrorists can't find fertile ground there.
In a lighter moment, Mr Putin couldn't stay impartial when asked about Russia’s upset win over England in football.
“I believe our team has won because of its team spirit and the professionalism of the head coach, the support of the whole stadium and the whole country – it was quite visible. I consider that this spirit of winning should be preserved in the future,” he said.
To watch the video of the President's Q&A session please follow the links below.
The call-in across eleven time zones has provided a rare opportunity for the citizens to directly address their leader, and gave the leader a chance to hear people's problems first hand.