cue the lightning bolts

the only question that matters: is it true?

Iran has signed the NPT. As a signatory to the NPT, Iran may rightfully, legally, use nuclear technology for peaceful energy purposes. Iran has submitted to and passed repeated IAEA inspections. The US intelligence community (NIE) does not consider Iran a nuclear threat. Israel refuses to sign the NPT. Israel has an estimated several hundred undeclared nuclear weapons. Russia and China have warned that an attack on Iran will have global consequences. That's the situation in a nutshell. Where to next, people? Where to?

Have I now become your enemy by telling you the truth? - Galatians 4:16


Putin takes the Russian people seriously

This is a small selection of excerpts from a four-hour question and answer session between Vladimir Putin and Russian citizens.


On corrupt officials harassing and taunting people instead of doing their jobs:

Maria Sittel
: Yes, Rostov-on-Don is on the line. Oleg, Vassilyevich, you can ask your question.

Oleg Trusov: Good afternoon, Mr Putin.

My aunt Nina is 84 and lives in Azov. She is a war veteran and she is disabled.

After your TV appearance my mother went to the Azov administration and asked to put aunt Nina on a housing waiting list. She was turned down. She was told: “You’ve come here because you listen to all these speeches on television.”

We recently got a reply that flats will be made available only to those who joined the waiting list before March 2005.

Is there a chance for my aunt Nina to get a flat? After all, she is an old woman and these visits that get her nowhere are bad for her nerves.

Vladimir Putin: Is your mother a World War II veteran?

Oleg Trusov: No, it’s my aunt, my mother’s elder sister.

Vladimir Putin: And she is a World War II veteran?

Oleg Trusov: Yes.

Vladimir Putin: The decision has been made and it is final: All the World War II veterans are to be given flats regardless of whether or not they joined the waiting list before March 1, 2005. We are financing this out of the budget for 2010.

I have just one question or request for the veterans and the administrative bodies: determine as quickly as possible the number of people who are entitled to new housing under that decision. This needs to be done so that our construction companies could get government financing in time to buy or build the required amount of housing in 2010.

As for the reply you got, it is clearly a proforma letter. I think the regional governor should look into this and respond adequately. Such negligence, and it is nothing but negligence, on the part of officials should be punished.

As for your relative, as a veteran of the Great Patriotic War she is entitled to that flat. Incidentally, the number of people who had failed to join the waiting list before March 1, 2005 jumped after I made my announcement on television. There are 10,000 people on the waiting list already. But we will keep our promise in any case regardless of the number of people who have got the right to housing.

Ernest Mackevicius: Maria, let’s take one more call.

Vladimir Putin: And, I’m sorry but I would like to add that in many regions they put people on waiting lists in the relevant agencies, housing units and other departments of the municipal administrations.

Maria Sittel: Mr Putin, let me explain why we picked this particular question: We have a lot of messages which quote the local authorities as saying: “We hear that Putin has promised it to you, so go and ask Putin.” We have got very many such questions that cite the reaction of the local administrations.

Vladimir Putin: Well, if you have such facts, let me know while we are on the air and we will sort out the people who give such answers.

Maria Sittel: Thank you.

On the price of pharmaceuticals:

We have the following text message: “Who is standing behind the Arbidol medication? Instead of 125 roubles, ten pills now cost 275 roubles. 20 Remantadin pills which cost 50 roubles are not being advertised. There is no pressure either. Who is profiting from the healthcare sector? The list of skyrocketing medicine prices is long and not confined to Arbidol. Who controls the prices? Who is profiting from the healthcare sector? Mr Putin, please stop this robbery. You can do it.”

Vladimir Putin: What can I say? Who is behind these developments? Of course, this is done by incompetent businessmen and people who have no idea of social responsibility. They want to pocket as much money as possible from every project.

...I spoke to the Prosecutor-General a while ago. Both he and I believe that it is necessary to step up our efforts to bring those officials who are guilty of violations to account. There are violations today even despite high retail mark-ups. In some cases a number of business people exceed even these high retail mark-ups, sometimes many times over. They are liable to tough administrative penalties. They may be fined doubly the amount of illegally obtained revenues, removed from their position and disqualified for several years. In other words, a ban will be imposed on certain types of activities. It is possible to apply articles of criminal law as well. I hope that a combination of all these measures should stabilise the situation to a certain extent next year.

Maria Sittel: Excellent, all the more so since the prosecutor’s office has already called the actions of some businessmen, as well as local and regional authorities, as asocial. Indeed, we must not tolerate such a difference in prices on a simple facemask – one rouble versus 60 roubles closer to the Ural Mountains, or 30 and 40 roubles, as is the case with us here in the middle of the Volga region. This is an enormous difference, and the result of tremendous corruption in the pharmaceutical market. Mr Putin, there are very many reports on this subject.

Vladimir Putin: It is exactly as you say.

On the behavior of the wealthy:

Oleg Danilov: Good afternoon, Mr Putin. I have a question prompted by the recent car crash in Switzerland after races between very expensive cars, such as Lamborghinis. How can we teach our wealthy and arrogant to behave decently? This is a question of justice. Why is it okay to grow rich by someone else’s suffering and to steal and cheat? Why isn’t it fashionable to bring things into our house and spend money here in Russia, and not the other way round?

Thank you.

Vladimir Putin: Oleg, I have just spoken about this. If someone wants to invest, it would be good to do so in Russia, because investment means more taxes and more jobs.

As for people who have become wealthy recently or during the chaotic period, they cannot be put on one and the same footing. Far from all entrepreneurs acquired their money legally. If fact, for the majority, the reverse is true. But there were certainly those who used loopholes in laws, especially during privatisation in the early and middle 1990s.

But your question is on a somewhat different issue. As you said, it is about “decency”. We have a word – nouveau rich – that describes people who have quickly and suddenly become rich, do not know how to behave, cannot use their money properly and show off their wealth. Yes, regrettably, we have this problem. Judging by your voice you are a young man, but even in Soviet times some tried to show off their wealth. Some people would put golden caps on their teeth, preferably the front teeth, to show their level of their prosperity. Lamborghinis and other expensive bric-a-brac are the same as golden teeth. People who are showing off their wealth against a background of millions of Russians living modestly do not differ in any way from those who had golden teeth.

On the relationship with Medvedev:

Ernest Mackevicius: Mr Prime Minister, we have a few messages that were emailed to our website. I’ll read some of them in turn. One of the most frequently question asked is “How are relations in the Medvedev-Putin tandem?”

Vladimir Putin: They’re good. I have said more than once that we’ve known each other for ages. And we have not simply known each other, but have also worked together. We graduated from the same university, attended lectures by the same professors who not only taught us their subjects but also shaped our outlook on life. These common principles allow us to work together effectively today.

On Mikhail Khodorkovsky, a Jewish oligarch in prison:

Ernest Mackevicius: When will Khodorkovsky be released?

Vladimir Putin: I’ve just returned from France, where I was asked the same question. This notorious personage is in prison because of a court decision. It is not important when he will be released, it is important to avoid repeating such crimes in this country.

This is a matter of economic crimes. By the way, the Yukos bankruptcy proceedings were initiated by Western creditors and banks. And all these proceedings were carried out in accordance with Russian law.

I have said this on several occasions, and I will make the point again today: The funds derived from auctioning Yukos assets went to the government budget, but not only to the government budget. When we received the funds – and the majority of assets were received in 2006 – I convinced my colleagues that we must not simply add these funds to the budget and dissolve them there, or channel them into reserve funds – although reserves have turned out very helpful these days – but use them to address the most pressing challenges.

The money that was once stolen from the people must be returned to them. And not to a vague group, but to the actual people who have found themselves in trouble as a result of the difficult, I’d even say tragic, economic developments of the early and mid-1990s. These funds should help the least well-off citizens of the Russian Federation. And so the 240 billion roubles earned from auctioning Yukos assets were used to create the Housing and Utilities Reform Fund.

Ten million people have taken advantage of the fund to repair their houses and flats, and 150,000 people will be relocated from slums into new blocks of flats. The fund will continue to work. Its reserves were also spent on landscaping in Russian towns and villages.

As for the other side, the criminal one, we will also operate within the framework of Russian law.

Unfortunately, no one recalls that one of the Yukos security chiefs is in jail too. Do you think he acted on his initiative and at his own risk? He had no actual interest. He was not the company’s main shareholder. It’s obvious that he acted in the interests and under the directives of his bosses. How he acted is a separate matter. At least five murders have been proven.

They wanted to include a tea shop building into their office in Moscow. The owner of this small business enterprise, a woman, was requested to give them her business. She refused to do that, and they hired a hitman who shot her just near her apartment, before her husband’s eyes.

The Mayor of Nefteyugansk demanded that Yukos pay taxes, and what happened to him? He was killed.

The people, a married couple, who were hired by Yukos’ security service to organise contract killings, tried to blackmail the company to get a share in the business, and they were also killed.

All of these crimes are proven, we should not forget about that.

But, of course, the life of Russian prisoners should be governed by the current Russian legislation. And the Government will act in accordance with this legislation.

On George Bush:

Ernest Mackevicius
: What is your relationship with George W. Bush?

Vladimir Putin: We haven’t met since we both left office. But I have to say that we have developed a very warm personal relationship. As I have said before, it helped us to solve some very difficult problems.

George is a very decent man and a good friend. I will be happy to continue working with him if such opportunity arises.

On Russia's future:

Mr Putin, could you tell us please what kind of a country are we supposed to build? What will be Russia’s future?

Vladimir Putin: You know, when we talk about this country, about Russia, we start with its economy, efficiency and competitiveness, and all that is very important. But our ultimate goal is people. Russia is its people, and we must make them happy, improve their lives, as well as Russia’s healthcare services, security, defence potential and infrastructure. We have a great deal of work ahead of us.

You successfully graduated from university and are doing your postgraduate studies now.. Each person has her or his own goals. I hope that we can achieve all the goals we set.

On following through with promises:

Andrei Baranov: Mr Putin, this is not a question. There is one of your Kuzbass friends in the audience, miner Yevgeny Denk, to whom you gave a lift in your service car. He asked for an opportunity to speak.

Go ahead, ask your question please, Evgeny Alexandrovich.

Yevgeny Denk: Good afternoon, Mr Putin

I would like to thank you for visiting Novokuznetsk to deal with the issue of unfit housing, and want to let you know that those 9 barracks in Verkhny district have been torn down, even the basement has been demolished. Three hundred individuals have been rehoused and have settled into their new apartments. On behalf of everyone here, I would like to express our sincere gratitude for your assistance.

I have swapped apartments with my mother-in-law. Her four-bedroom apartment was slightly larger than mine. I have a son and a daughter, and now they each have a room of their own. They also asked me to send you their greetings. I don’t really have a question, I just wanted to say thank you on behalf of all residents and also personally, from me.

Vladimir Putin: Thank you very much, Yevgeny Alexandrovich.

I am very glad that I now have some more friends in Kuzbas. I am glad that we were able to help you resolve your housing problems. Hopefully, together with the regional authorities and the Governor, we will be able to continue these programmes, as there is still a lot of unfit housing that needs to be demolished and many people who need to be rehoused.

The housing and communal services fund, as I have already mentioned, will continue throughout next year, and for the years to come until the problem is resolved.

I hope your mother in law doesn’t feel that she lost out in your apartment swap.

Ernest Mackevicius: Thank you, Mr Putin. Thank you, Novokuznetsk. Let us continue to work. We have already been on air for three hours.

On people and animals:

“Recently, we have often seen you on TV and photographs, there has been a lot of coverage of you with tigers, leopards, and whales. It seems like you feel more comfortable with those animals, than with your ministers. Is this indeed the case or does it just seem like that? “

By the way, you were recently elected chair of the Russian Geographic Society’s council of trustees. What does that title mean to you? I am asking, because people are also interested in that aspect of your work.

Vladimir Putin: I believe it was Frederick II, the Prussian king, who said “The more I get to know people, the more I like dogs.”

On Russian history:

“Do you consider Stalin’s role on the whole to be positive or negative?” I have left that question in because I am aware how sensitive it is. There is much debate in society, and I see ”an ambush” here: If I say “positive” some people will get angry, and if I say “negative” other people will be angry. But because the subject of Stalin and Stalinism is still mooted, I left that question in deliberately.

I don’t think it would be right to give a blanket assessment. Obviously, between 1924 and 1953, when Stalin led the country, it changed dramatically: It turned from an agrarian country into an industrialized one. True, there were no peasants left and we all remember well the problems, especially in the final period, with agriculture, the food queues, etc. All that happened in the rural areas had no positive impact. But industrialisation was accomplished.

We won the Great Patriotic War. Whoever and whatever might say, victory had been won. Even if we go back to the question of casualties, you know, nobody can today throw stones at those who organised and led us to victory because if we had lost that war, the consequences to our country would have been far more catastrophic. They are hard to imagine.

All the undeniable positive things, however, had been accomplished at an unacceptable price. Repressions did take place. It is a fact. Millions of our fellow citizens suffered from them. Such a method of running the state, of achieving results is unacceptable. It is impossible. Undoubtedly, during that period we were confronted not only with a personality cult, but with massive crimes against our own people. That is a fact too. We must not forget about it either.

Any historical event should be analysed in its entirety. That is what I would like to say.

“What in your opinion impedes Russia’s development most of all?” One can philosophise on that score endlessly. I would permit myself just two remarks.

In the sphere of mentality, of course, it is the socialised consciousness, the expectation that the state should solve all the problems. That of course restricts individual initiative.

We were just speaking about the Soviet period. You know, at the first stage there was a lot of what was positive, the revolutionary elan. You remember the revolutionary song that went like this: “No one will bestow salvation on us, neither God, nor Tsar nor Hero, we will achieve it… (there were some more words there) with our own hands.” That slogan unfortunately was lost. In the Soviet times people were bereft of initiative. This attitude is still embedded in our mentality, I think everyone expects decisions to come from the government. That is important and necessary, but we should also seek to give every person an opportunity to fulfil his or her potential as an individual.

In the economy the main problem is the structure of the economy that had taken shape, the planned economy. Such economic system is like an Egyptian pyramid: It is powerful but clumsy and very inert when it comes to change. It is sometimes easier to build a new enterprise in a new place, in a green field and it will be competitive, effective and modern, than to overhaul what we have inherited from the past. That said, we should do the latter as well.

On happiness:

“Can you recall the happiest day of your life? Dasha, 16.”

Dear Dasha, I think the fact that we are alive is happiness bestowed on us by our Lord. We tend to forget that life is finite. But if we remember it, then we will know that every day we have lived is a happy day.

“Do your subordinates tell you jokes about you?”

No, they don’t. Some of my subordinates are also my friends, and they do sometimes try it, but those who are just subordinates do not.

On the situation in the North Caucasus:

“What do you think about the situation in the North Caucasus? Events in Ingushetia and Dagestan may spark a new war in the Caucasus.”

No, there is no risk that they will spark a new war in the Caucasus. The situation is complicated, and has several causes. Illegal armed units and groups of extremists still operate there, sometimes even with a feeling of impunity. This is a fact and we know about it. We will continue to fight them, until they are completely destroyed.

At the same time, we must pay more attention to social and economic issues. We need to: create new jobs that pay well, resolve social problems and counter corruption and the clan system. Sadly, corruption is not less of a problem in the Caucasus than elsewhere in the country, and in some cases it is an even greater problem than it is, on average, elsewhere. Unfortunately, the problem is rooted in tradition, and history is in part to blame. But this should not prevent us from resolving the problem.

So, I think that we will achieve positive results if we work towards it.

On Ukraine:

“Why is there continuing enmity between Ukraine and Russia? Why does Ukraine hate us?”

That’s not true. You cannot say that Ukraine hates us. I, for one, love Ukraine, and I’m sure that millions of Russian citizens feel similarly.

What does Ukraine mean? What does Russia mean? Those words primarily refer to people. A country is made up of its people. A country consists of people rather than merely territories or natural riches. There is so much that has linked us with Ukraine in the past, there is so much today that links us, and so much that will continue to link our two countries in the future.

However, certain individuals who have made their way into the Ukrainian leadership are exploiting our current problems, our past and present difficulties. I would like to emphasise that they are doing this out of their selfish political interests. But they will not succeed in destroying these centuries-long ties between Ukraine and Russia.

On the United States:

"Will Russia help the United States after its collapse?”

If this happens, there will be a lot to pay because the United States is the world’s biggest power, economic power, and we have extensive links with it. It is one of our most important partners, and the global economy is very closely intertwined with the US economy. Therefore, it would be inappropriate to wish problems on any country. We would all be better off living in a prosperous world, rather than in a world of disasters.

On being able to communicate with the Russian people:

“What do these annual question-and-answer sessions with Russian citizens mean to you?”

I have already mentioned this. While preparing for this event, my colleagues and I study a host of incoming requests, demands, and information. Incidentally, this shows that for a lot of people in this country life is still difficult. There is a great deal we need to do in order to reduce the number of problems people face.

Here’s a different question: “Are you leaving out the stupid questions?”

That was a text message. We have gathered here to discuss serious problems. Therefore, I would like to ask the person who sent that question in, what category he thinks it falls into?

This message is similar: “Mr Putin, would you like to live as long as you desire? If you want to enter eternity as a citizen of Planet Earth, please call me on my mobile phone. Sergei Dolgov.”

Mr Dolgov, I’m happy to be a citizen of the Russian Federation. This is quite enough. Thank you very much for your suggestion.

Ernest Mackevicius: This was the final answer to the final question.

You have been watching the programme “A Conversation with Vladimir Putin Continued” by the Russia channel. We have been on air for more than four hours. I hope, that in the future, we’ll meet again in this studio, or somewhere similar, and that will be able to continue our conversation.

Allow me to thank everyone who has watched and listened to our programme, those who have sent in their questions and those who have gathered here today.

Thank you, Mr Putin.

Vladimir Putin: Thank you.

On answering people's questions for four hours:

Question: Mr Putin, how do you relax after such marathons? Do you have any special relaxation techniques?

Vladimir Putin: I do not get that stressed, so I don’t need to do anything special to relax. This is part of my work, and it is a very useful part. Of course, it requires greater concentration, and you need to put extra time into the preparation. But in fact the preparation does not take that long, because my colleagues and I work hard throughout the year, dealing with all the problems mentioned today.

This time, as you may have noticed, we changed the session’s format. Reporters travelled to places that I have visited this year for one reason or another. In that sense, today’s session was more focused on current issues of production in industry, we tried to look at the developments in different sectors of industry, and at those companies I visited this year, to see how my instructions aimed at stabilising them are being implemented. From that perspective, I found today’s event particularly useful and interesting.

Question: This is your tenth Question & Answer session on TV. I understand that when you actually visit the place, you have enough time to go into the problems in some depth. But this four-hour session requires immediate response from you. Isn’t that too much pressure?

Vladimir Putin: Certainly not. Let me repeat that I consider this kind of work extremely useful, especially in this new format. I was able to return to the companies I visited. I did not just study their problems on my visits, we sat down together and tried to find and draft solutions, to set goals for the federal and regional government bodies, and company shareholders. Then we tried to implement our plans together; and we keep trying now.

It is very important that I am aware of what is going on, and how people feel, in real time, not only from records.

Take, for example, the issue of overdue wages raised by representatives from the Amursk Shipyard. The reports told me that the problem was already resolved, but it turned out that that was not the case in reality.

I know that the arrears will be cleared in a few days’ time. But there is a problem here. When money is transferred to the company’s account, the bank performs a direct debit, because the company has huge debts. It becomes technically impossible to ensure that the money reaches the employees. But when records tell me the wages have been paid, but in reality people have received nothing, it’s a different case. True, in this case it is not that they are withholding wages from their employees on principle, funds have been allocated especially for this purpose. But everything should be done on time. Otherwise it affects people’s morale and their confidence that positive changes are occurring.

On foreign policy:

Question: There were very few questions about foreign policy today. How close do you think Iran is to making a nuclear bomb? Should Russia also impose sanctions?

Vladimir Putin: We do not have any information proving that Iran is working on nuclear weapons.

Question: I saw a question about doomsday on the screen. What is your idea of doomsday?

Vladimir Putin: I believe that all ideas involving any kind of apocalyptic expectations are dangerous. One should not wait for doomsday, but rather concentrate on a light in the end of the tunnel. I mean the end of the recession, the global financial crisis.

On the Russian mentality:

Question: During your presentation, you mentioned “inherent traits” in the Russian mentality which prevent us from improving our lives. Don’t you think that this Q & A practice, which is very popular in Russia, encourages paternalism: making people believe in someone who has all the answers, rather than making efforts and acting to solve their own problems?

Vladimir Putin: I do not think so. Today we talked about the problems within limits of the Government’s jurisdiction. I think that people have a right to know what exactly their government plans to do to resolve the country’s problems with development, and how it will be done. This is what we tried to establish today.

Question: Are any cabinet reshuffles possible?

Vladimir Putin: What for?

On China:

: Please consider this: on the one hand, Russia and China are intensively developing energy cooperation; on the other hand, both countries plan to increase their share of high-tech products. How is it possible to maintain a balance between the two developmental directions, in terms of the distribution of administrative and financial resources? Do you think the planned commissioning of the China Turkmenistan gas pipeline will affect the plans to build a Russia-China pipeline? Thank you.

Vladimir Putin: Both Russia and China emphasise the need to see development in their high-tech sectors. Energy projects do not affecting these policies, in fact, they support them. Russian-Chinese cooperation is much broader than oil and gas.

Russian companies are currently building the Tianwan Nuclear Power Plant in China. We have recently agreed with Chinese partners, that Russian engineers will be directly involved in building more nuclear power generation units. This energy sector also forms part of the high-technology sphere.

We are also interested in expanding our high-tech equipment’s export to China. We also welcome cooperation in other areas, and we also welcome China’s initiatives. Our cooperation is a two-way road.

The commissioning of the Turkmenistan-China pipeline is not going to affect our plans to expand our own pipeline network, which could possibly also reach to China. I am referring to China’s growing consumption of primary energy resources.

We maintain regular, close contact with our Chinese colleagues on this issue. We know how fast the demand is growing there, and they too are closely monitoring the situation. The gas link to Turkmenistan will not undermine our plans.

On corruption:

: Mr Putin, people who called today quoted officials who dismissed their requests saying things like “If Putin promised, go to him.” What are you planning to do about it?

Vladimir Putin: This isn’t a question of what I said or what I promised. We are talking about decisions taken by the Russian Government. They have to be implemented. Any official, who either does not want to or cannot implement them, will have to find another job. But I can assure you that they would rather pull themselves together and act as they should.

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