Politically-active youth a good legacy of ‘Putin’s regime’ - PM

Commenting on recent election protests, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has said that if, as a result of “Putin’s regime”, young people have become more active in voicing their position, that is a good thing.

Putin said that it is “absolutely normal” that people express their opinion about processes developing in the country – in its economy, politics and social life. He stressed, though, that meetings and rallies should be held in accordance with the law and expressed hope that it would happen in exactly that way.

The premier is holding his annual live Q&A session with Russian citizens, which is broadcast by major federal TV channels and radio stations. The special program is called “Talk with Vladimir Putin: Continued”.

The very first question he was asked referred to the situation around the December 4 parliamentary poll, which brought victory to the Putin-led United Russia party. The vote was followed by a wave of protests throughout the country against the vote result and alleged polling violations.

Putin noted that mainly active youngsters who are capable of voicing their stance clearly participated in the rallies.

“I am glad about that. And if that is the result of ‘Putin’s regime, it’s good, I don’t see anything outrageous about that,” he said.

Webcams to monitor fair elections

Speaking about the results of the State Duma elections, the PM said in his opinion they “reflect the real distribution of political forces in the country.”

The fact United Russia got fewer votes in these elections than in 2007 is understandable, since the country has gone though “a very difficult period” of the world economic crisis, which affected many citizens. Therefore it is now easier for the opposition to “recruit” new supporters than it was before.

“But still, United Russia retained its leading position – and it’s a very good result,” Putin said.

He stressed that the opposition “is always” unhappy with election results and that is also absolutely normal.

In order to avoid the very possibility of any election fraud, the prime minister suggested installing webcams that would work round-the-clock in all the voting stations in the country.

"We also need to make sure that all political forces which got into parliament are represented at election commissions in accordance with the law," he added.

The PM called on citizens not to ignore the upcoming presidential poll in 2012. He said they should not follow the pattern of “yes, we would have voted for him, but they will still do something there, and I need to go urgently to get potatoes, to go to the country house.”

“No one but you will do anything,” he underlined. “Only you will decide who will do foreign policy and represent our country on the international arena, who will ensure internal and external security, and deal with social issues, who will develop the economy,” he said.

Putin’s presidential agenda

Vladimir Putin – who is running for the presidency in March next year – was asked what his mission would be if he returns to the Kremlin.

He said that a key goal would become the greater stability of the Russian political system and its resistance to external impacts.

"We must broaden democracy so that people stay in touch with authorities and trust them more," Putin said.

The second task would be the modernization of the economy. Putin pointed out that the idea of “innovation” should nest in the brain of every Russian citizen and be part of general policy.

He also stressed that the social sphere should be developed “so that no one feels abandoned by the state.”

Putin assured that if citizens entrust him at the presidential elections, he will be carrying out that mission with pleasure and with the same energy as before.

The premier noted that lately the word “stability” has acquired a certain negative connotation.

"Stability does not mean stagnation, it means sustainable development. This is how I understand stability," Putin said. He stressed that the achievements of previous years must be retained in the future.

­‘Color revolutions a tool to destabilize situation from abroad’

Editor-in-Chief of Echo of Moscow radio station Aleksey Venediktov asked Vladimir Putin what he would reply, not to the opposition, but to ordinary citizens who took to streets for the first time on December 10, and who believe that their votes were “stolen”.

“I would repeat that if this is the result of the ‘Putin regime’, I can only say that I am satisfied with this result,” the PM responded.

As for alleged falsifications during the parliamentary election, Putin said that on the demand of the opposition some votes have been recounted. He noted, though, that after the final results have been counted, all such instances will be considered in courts.

“I count on the courts to do so objectively,” he observed.

The prime minister reiterated that he has nothing against criticism. When asked if the recent protests were a sign of a coming “color revolution”, Putin said “Lawful protests – yes, criticism of the authorities – yes. But it’s unacceptable to let us draw into destabilization processes managed from abroad.”

He went on to say that during the Orange Revolution in Ukraine, some Russian opposition members were official counselors of the then-President Viktor Yushchenko and are currently “transferring this practice to Russian soil.”

­‘Kudrin never left my team’

­Vladimir Putin also commented on the dismissal of former finance minister Aleksey Kudrin earlier this year. When asked whether he will include Kudrin in the government if he becomes president, he said, “Aleksey Leonidovich Kudrin never left my team. He is my long-standing friend.”

“Such people as Kudrin are always needed, both in the actual and future government. We’ll find a place for him,” he added.

The premier admitted that they are divided on some issues, but these are not “principal differences.”

­Obscene criticism is nothing new

­When a presenter read the prime minister a question submitted through the internet asking what his attitude to the voting ballot with an obscene address on it was (the story was reported in this week’s edition of the Kommersant Vlast magazine), Putin said that such an attitude was nothing new.

“When there was a war in the Northern Caucasus I saw a lot of cartoons about myself and heard lots of things,” Putin said, adding that Western journalists were especially active in spreading this sort of information. “I am sure that I was right back then and I am sure I am still right.”

As for this particular phrase, Putin noted that it was important where it was made – it was made in London, where Russian citizens were taking part in the vote at the embassy. “And we all know who of Russians reside in London and for what reason,” Putin said, hinting at the fact that there is no extradition treaty between the UK and Russia, and a lot of people who face criminal investigation in Russia choose the UK as their country of residence.

Above all, Putin said that he had personally called upon Russian citizens to come and vote in the last elections. “And that was what they did, and for this I have already thanked them,” Putin said, to cheers from the audience.

­‘McCain wants Gaddafi fate not for me, but for Russia’

­Another question dealt with a recent Twitter message by US Republican senator John McCain who warned Putin of the fate of Muammar Gaddafi.

“This is the fate [McCain] wants for Russia, not for me,” the prime minister commented.

He also criticized the violent scenes of the killing of the Libyan leader shown on TV, stressing that he had been executed without trial. Putin added that military rhetoric of Senator McCain is probably linked to his past, namely with the fact that he fought in Vietnam, and sees force as the only efficient means of international politics.

“He was not only taken hostage, he spent significant time in a pit in the ground – anyone would go crazy in such circumstances,”
Putin said.

“Some want to put Russia aside, so that it does not obstruct them from ruling in the world,” he added. “We have our own opinion, we are leading independent international policies, this, of course impedes someone.”

­Party performance is not a criteria of governors' success

­Putin said that the government’s assessment of governors’ work was not based primarily on the performance of United Russia party at the elections in regions, but sometimes a lack of popular support is a sign for governors that it is time to resign.

“The government has elaborated the list of criteria for the assessment of governors’ efficiency and there is no connection with United Russia’s results in regional elections,” the PM said.

However, in some regions the governors were directly participating in elections and failed to achieve positive results and “this testifies to the level of support, or lack of support, from the citizens who live in one territory or another. And in some cases if I were in the governors’ place I would consider submitting my resignation,” Putin said.

Addressing whether or not the regions that did not support United Russia at the elections will be excluded from programs of social support, Putin said such rumors were total rubbish. “Such things never happen in any country and it will not happen in Russia,” Putin said.

­‘I won’t wish success to Prokhorov’

­The issue of the forthcoming presidential election could not be avoided during the Q&A session.

Vladimir Putin was asked what he thinks about billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov’s decision to join the presidential race.

“I can’t say that I wish him success as I’m also running, but I’m sure that he will be a worthy and strong rival,”
the prime minister responded.

As a citizen of Russia “who has reached a certain age,” the businessman has every right to do so Putin added. He also reminded of Prokhorov’s failed attempt at leading the Right Cause party.

“Mikhail Dmitrievich [Prokhorov] is a persistent person, he never gives up. As I see it, he decided to use a new platform in order to promote the ideas which he believes are right for the country. What he is doing is within the law and the constitution,”
Vladimir Putin noted.

­'Absence of opposition literary license'

­He then commented on the statement that there is no opposition in Russia.

“Judging by what I’ve seen in recent days on TV, on the internet, on the radio and even here in the studio, in the course of this Q&A session…the claim that we don’t have opposition and that it does not have the opportunity to speak out is something of a literary license,” Putin said, adding that the country does need to move toward further liberalization.

“We can’t do only one thing in this country. We can’t create regional parties, especially in ethnic republics, where this can result in nationalism and separatism,” he stressed.

He also said that it is necessary to treat all citizens with respect, “even those who do not accept the authorities in principle.”

“But there are people who hold Russian passports but act in the interests of the foreign state and on foreign funds. We will try to establish contact with them as well,” Putin went on to say. “Although sometimes this is useless and impossible.”

However, he noted that if he becomes president, he is going to work with everyone without exception.

Direct election of governors possible, after presidential ‘filter’

Answering a question as to whether the return to direct elections of regional governors was possible, Vladimir Putin noted that he had personally invented the current system and had valid reasons for doing so.

He recalled that this system was introduced in the middle of last decade. Back then, the situation in the country was unstable, military operations were held in the North Caucasus where semi-criminal elites were acting.Putin said that at that time governors – who were elected by secret ballot – were often basing their power on criminal structures and separatist movements.

However, now it may be time to consider changes, although they should be introduced gradually.

“We must keep the presidential filter that would block the forces that promote separatism or, God forbid, a split from the Russian Federation,” he said.

A system could be introduced in which all parties elected to regional parliaments submit their candidates for gubernatorial posts to the president. After that, those whose candidacy is approved by the country’s leader could compete for the job in regional elections.

Currently the party that wins elections proposes candidates for the posts of governors to the president, who makes the choice. It is then submitted to regional parliaments for approval.

­Federal support to North Caucasus republics to continue

­When a question arrived by phone asking Putin to detail his attitude towards the slogan “it is enough to feed the Caucasus” – a protest against allegedly excessive state support to North Caucasus regions – Putin said that such an attitude is a mistake and the support will continue.

Putin said that such sentiments are caused by the fact that more and more people from the North Caucasus region are arriving in big Russian cities and cannot adjust to city life and new realities. Thus, to counter the slogan the authorities must change life in the Northern Caucasus in such way that people choose not to leave their home places.

“We need to develop the production, economy, social sphere so that no one wants to get away from there. For this, we must invest money there. This does not mean that we must throw in money without thinking,” Putin said.

The PM added that the allegations about the high corruption level in the Northern Caucasus were groundless. “I know there are many questions to [leader of the Chechen Republic] Ramzan Kadyrov, but look at how he has restored the city of Grozny. This is unprecedented. And I can say that Chechnya has the minimum level of corruption component,” Putin said.

The PM added that improving life in the North Caucasus region will eventually reduce the number of those who join the illegal armed formations, which is a good thing.

­We should have saved the USSR

­When a listener asked Putin his possible behavior would have been if he was in power during the breakup of the Soviet Union, the prime minister stressed that there cannot be a subjunctive mode in history, but in such a situation he would persistently and fearlessly fight for the country’s integrity.

“What would I do? We should have started the economic changes and reforms in the Soviet Union in time, and strengthened them with democratic changes in the country. We should have been fighting for the territorial integrity of the state persistently and without fear,” Putin said.

Putin added that in late ’90s the situation was much more dramatic than before the breakup of the Soviet Union. “The economy collapsed as a result of the 1998 crisis, the social sphere was on the zero level and the army ceased to exist. And we faced an aggression from the international terrorism, a civil war started. And the remaining part of Russia was on the brink of collapse. And you know what particular steps I took to preserve the territorial integrity of the Russian Federation,” Putin said.

­Medvedev best candidate for premiership

­Finally, Vladimir Putin reiterated that, in the event of his victory in the presidential election, Dmitry Medvedev will head the cabinet.

“United Russia, led by Medvedev, received the majority in the State Duma. This allows the government to work steadily. It is an unconditional victory,” Putin said.

Vladimir Putin answered questions both from guests in the studio and citizens participating in TV link-ups with Russian cities. Questions were also submitted by phone, text message and online. The most interesting and relevant questions received by the call center were forwarded to Putin during the live broadcast.

Some famous persons were in the studio to take part in the “Talk with Vladimir Putin”. A number of celebrities also accepted the invitation to work in the call center together with regular phone operators.

It was the 10th live Q&A session for Vladimir Putin. The program lasted for four-and-a-half hours, breaking last year’s record of 4 hours and 26 minutes. The prime minister responded to 88 questions in total. Around 1.8 million questions were submitted during the broadcast.

After the official part, Putin continued his conversation with the journalists in the studio. Among other things, the prime minister was asked if he would consider an appeal for a pardon by jailed former Yukos CEO Mikhail Khodorkovsky.

Putin said that if Khodorkovsky filed such an appeal – which he has not done so far – he would give it consideration. “But for a start, I should be elected as president,” he said.