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“You start talking about elections and everyone stops working” - Putin

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has confirmed he and President Medvedev will jointly decide on their participation in the 2012 election. The premier also may head United Russia’s list in 2011.

Putin reiterated on Wednesday his earlier promise that he and Medvedev will make “a coordinated decision” on who will run for the presidency in 2012. Earlier on the same day, Putin thanked Medvedev and the presidential administration for their support for the government and its work as “a united team.”

But it is too early to speak about his possible participation in the 2012 presidential election, Putin said, in line with the statements he has already made. “As you start to speak [about this], everyone stops working,” he joked at an informal meeting with journalists of the premier’s press pool.

In 2011, the prime minister may head the ruling United Russia party’s ticket in the parliamentary election. “I have already said it is not ruled out,” Putin told reporters. However, he has not yet made the decision.  

Putin highly praised the government’s work during the current year. The government has managed to fulfill almost all of its promises, he noted. He highlighted, in particular, the state’s support for people who suffered from wildfires this summer.  

Speaking about the current government’s future, the premier said it would be undesirable to reshuffle the cabinet before the next presidential elections. It is better to change the cabinet after the head of state is elected, he noted. Thus, the country and society might see “what people” will fulfill the plans that will be formulated in 2011, he noted.

Answering questions about relations with other countries, Putin described the new Russian-US START treaty on strategic offensive arms reduction as Medvedev’s “unconditional success” in foreign affairs. Russia’s confidence in its US partners is constantly  growing, Putin said. But it “has not grown to its full measure yet,” he noted.    

The New START, as well as the favorable external environment, are “one of the most important factors of stable and calm development,” he noted. This concerns the economic field, first of all. According to Putin, Russia’s accession to the WTO could be expected in 2011.

Asked about internal affairs, Putin said there are no forces in Russia which are interested in destabilization of the situation. “I do not know of such forces,” Putin said. “I hope there will be no destabilization. Why? Who needs it?”

Soccer fans who took part in mass riots in Moscow in early December are not such a  force, Putin said. They are not opposition to the authorities, he noted. “I hope they understand that they are being used in someone else’s interests… Fans who were united never let others manipulate them,” he noted.

“Transneft allegation should be checked”

Speaking on economic issues, Putin noted that the government and Central Bank have a common position on the gradual transition to a free-floating ruble exchange rate. But there will be no full transition “tomorrow,” he said. 

The premier also spoke concerning the allegation of a lawyer and minority shareholder, Alexey Navalny, that the construction of the Eastern Siberia-Pacific Ocean oil pipeline had involved large-scale embezzlement by senior executives of Russian pipeline operator Transneft.

“It must be checked,” Putin said. He stressed that the prosecution service and other inspection agencies should check it. It’s understandable why a minority shareholder should be interested – “the dividends should be higher,” the premier noted.

No problems with neighbors

Russia is expected to celebrate New Year without any problems in the energy area with its Commonwealth of Independent States partners, Putin said. “We have agreements with all the partners,” he noted.

Moscow has taken into account the positions of Belarus and Ukraine during the negotiations on energy issues, the premier said. According to him, it cost Russia a considerable amount of money. But he promised that “different variants” would be considered in the future.  

His idea of the merger of Russia’s Gazprom and Ukraine’s  Naftogaz is not “a useless idea,” Putin said. “On the contrary, there is sense in it.” Naftogaz would be a minority shareholder, but it would be able to take part in common operations, including extraction. “It will the biggest world company in which it will be a party,” the prime minister noted.

Putin refused to comment on the protests of the Belarus opposition after the December 19 presidential election. “I did not follow the election, but the number of those who voted is evident,” he stressed. One should respect “the choice of the Belarusian people,” Putin noted. At the same time, he is not ready to assess the events that “accompanied” the election. It should be considered “in detail,” he said.      

New Year at home

Putin said he was going to celebrate New Year at home. “I’ll stay at home and I hope I’ll be thinking about all things good,” he told journalists. 

The premier highlighted the lighter side of his conversation with reporters of the prime minister’s press pool. He suggested that microphones and cameras should be replaced by glasses of champagne and proposed a toast “to journalists.”

Putin’s informal meetings with journalists at the end of the year with tea or champagne has become a tradition in recent years. This time, he thanked the reporters for “an objective coverage of what happened in the country and what the government is doing.”