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7 Mar, 2009 12:36

Russia needs to move forward despite crisis - Medvedev

A year after he was elected president, Dmitry Medvedev has outlined the highlights of his tenure so far on his internet blog.

Russia's head of state spoke on the war in South Ossetia, government spending, financial crisis and tackling corruption.

“Dear friends,

A year ago, on March 7, the Central Election Commission published the official results of the presidential election. I’d like to talk to you about what has happened during this year, about the decisions we have made and about the problems we have faced. But first I’d like to thank once again all those who took part in the election and supported me as the future president.

Of course, the end of this first year is more than just a date. These 12 months have seen a number of events which have had a serious impact on the situation in our country. Of course, these events caused us to reconsider many of the goals which I announced at the beginning of last year, and changed the situation in the country in general.

There were several factors which contributed to this. In the economy, the financial crisis, which has affected almost all developed countries, was surely the most important factor. Speaking of which, I’d like to reiterate that I have always considered social and economic development of our country one of my most important tasks as the president.

Of course, the crisis significantly changed our plans. But I’d like to emphasise that despite all these difficulties we must nonetheless continue our progress.

It would be foolish to pretend that nothing is wrong. For instance, one of the major, ambitious goals I announced at the beginning of last year at a number of important conferences, namely that of turning Moscow into an international financial centre, is obviously no longer our number one goal. Yet this is absolutely not to say we are going to drop the idea. On the contrary, the crisis in world currencies and the situation with the US dollar, with the current financial markets, with the world financial structures—all of this indicates the world needs new financial architecture. This means the rouble still has every chance to become, one day, one of the world’s reserve currencies.

Progress towards an information society is another one of our goals. In this case, the situation is different: in just a few years we’ve managed to provide Internet access to all schools in Russia. When we first started working on this project, it seemed like a very difficult task. However, we did it. There is no need for me to explain to those watching this blog today what kind of opportunities access to the World Wide Web offers. I’d like to say that I will continue to personally monitor the situation to make sure that both the federal government and local authorities continue to work on this program, continue to provide Internet access by supplying finances on time, financial difficulties notwithstanding.

The problem of creating new jobs, naturally, has become more acute at times of crisis, and the development of digital technology offers new opportunities in this respect. All the experience mankind has accumulated becomes available to our people via these means: through the Internet, through digital television, and so on.

There is another important goal which I announced last year and which I won’t abandon despite the financial problems. We must gradually implement all the decisions we made to improve the demographic situation in the country. I’m referring to our measures to improve the birth rate and reduce the death rate, which we consider to be our priority and which we have already started implementing. Of course, we will have to make some adjustments due to the crisis. But this does not mean we’ll stop. On the contrary, as you know, recently we made the decision to allow using maternity capital to pay off mortgages starting from 2009 instead of 2010. And as of today, the Russian Pension Fund has issued almost a million maternity capital certificates. I expect that this measure will support families who would like to have a second or a third child and will help them solve the problem of buying a residence.

Of course, we will continue to work on medical issues to reduce the number of deaths from heart attacks, strokes, malignant tumours and road accidents. These programs will be fully financed. As I’ve mentioned, the funds allocated for national projects will be supplied in full.

Let me repeat: the crisis should not paralyse our progress towards the goals we have set. In the last three years we’ve done a lot to change the situation in the country, including such a sensitive issue as the situation of the housing market. We have set a very ambitious goal to start building at least one square metre of residential space per person per year by 2012. Today, we need do everything we can to at least preserve the potential of developing the construction sector, which we have been working on. We should try to build as many economical, good-quality houses as possible. Construction always has multiple effects: it creates new jobs and at the same time solves the most important social problem – that of providing housing for people. We will take all the necessary steps. More specifically, we have several major programs. We have funds established specifically for this purpose. Also, the Defence Ministry will continue to provide, or finance, housing for our servicemen.

I’d like to mention another issue we often speak about: travelling to and from the Russian Far East. This is a problem, because the fares are quite high, and our people living in the Far East have repeatedly asked us to do something to facilitate trips to Moscow, St. Petersburg, or the southern parts of Russia. Some decisions to this effect have now been made. I think these decisions are important. By making them, we have fulfilled the promises we made last year, the promises I personally gave when we examined the problems of development in the Far East. Of course, this is only part of the solution, but it’s a serious step forward, because now young people who study in schools, colleges, and universities, as well as older, mature people will be able to get a substantial discount of almost 50% when they fly to Moscow, St. Petersburg or Sochi.

What happened in the Caucasus during this year became a serious test both for me personally and for all of us. For the first time in many years, Russia had to take military action to protect its citizens, to protect civilians against the aggression the Georgian leadership committed. These events caused us to once again revisit the way we protect our interests on the international arena.

I believe the decisions we made demonstrated that what we did was right, that the steps we took were necessary. Most importantly, we were able to protect our people, citizens of the Russian Federation, and other people living in those regions. And we were able to protect our country’s national interests.

Our fight against corruption is another subject to which I have paid, and will continue to pay, very much attention. We have adopted a national plan for fighting corruption, the Anti-Corruption Plan.

Unfortunately, corruption is currently one of the most serious, most urgent problems in our society. Next week, I am going to preside over a special meeting on fighting corruption, and I will cover this subject in more detail in my next televised interview.

Thank you.”