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Vladimir Putin met with journalists and answered their questions following the Direct Line.
"Was it not daunting to face so many serious problems and pressing questions ?"
President of Russia Vladimir Putin :
-"Why do you say that ?"
"This is my work, what my colleagues and I are expected to do. You can’t hide from serious questions, because if you try to put a gloss on reality, how will you understand what is really going on ? And it is extremely important to understand where we are, how we are working, and how people view our work".
-"Mr President, when you were asked about [Alexei] Kudrin, you started talking about the future, about some plans for 2018. Does this mean that you have already made the decision to run for president in 2018 ?"
"No, it doesn’t mean that I have made such a decision. It means that we need to adjust our medium and long-term plans. No country can survive without making such adjustments, and Russia is no exception. We had development plans in place through to 2020, and now it is already 2016. We have come to the point where we need to reflect on the medium-term prospects.
This was Mr Kudrin’s own initiative too, really. He and some other colleagues said that we should be working on this regardless of who will be in the Government and who will be the President. The country has to know which road it is taking, at what pace, and what is needed to reach the goals it has set".
-"Do you regret Obama’s imminent departure ?"
"We will all go one day –there is no point in having regrets, we have to work. I must say that the President of the United States –assessments can vary of course, but in any case his work should be assessed by the citizens of the US– but he is working, and very actively. He and I keep in touch, I maintain contact with his Administration, and I am confident that this will continue until the end of his tenure. He is a very responsible man. But once America elects a new President, we’ll start working with the new one".
-"New government in Canada and new Prime Minister. How do you see the relations with Canada going forward ?"
"We are positive about them. We have known each other personally since we met in Antalya, by the way, at the G20 meeting. He has expressed his views about how he is going to build relations with Russia. We are quite satisfied.
As I understand it, the new Prime Minister of Canada wants to build relations with Russia on a positive basis, as we did in previous years. We are fine with that. We are neighbours across the Arctic Circle, across the North Pole. We have a lot of mutual interests, oddly enough, even being as far apart geographically as we are. We look forward to working together".
-"How do you see the role of the Kurds against ISIS ?"
"The role of the Kurds ? What can I say ? I will just say it as it is. How do I see it ? The Kurds are very courageous people, if not heroic. I know what I am saying. The Kurds fight selflessly, without sparing themselves, and very effectively. They are a very serious force in the fight against terrorism in the Middle East, particularly in Syria.
As you know, the United States is working with them actively, but our troops are also in contact with armed Kurdish units, including in Aleppo, where the terrorists of Jabhat al-Nusra and ISIS are now trying to oust them from their present positions. We are following the events and we will support them".
-"You have mentioned the economy. What do you see as a way out of this grave economic crisis : implementing Kudrin’s programme or, for example, agreeing with Saudi Arabia to freeze oil output ?
I also have a question on privatisation. Why did you agree to the privatisation of important stakes in companies like Rosneft while the market is so low ? How can you guarantee that it would not become a replica of the loans-for-shares auctions and selling off state assets at a low bargain price ?"
"Regarding ways out of the current situation, I do not intend to use either what Alexei Kudrin is proposing, or any agreements with Saudi Arabia as a foundation. In this respect, we should be guided by the anti-crisis plan of the Russian Government and make sure that it is implemented.
When it comes to dealing with the situation in which Russia has found itself, which is by the way also true for many other countries, especially the developing economies, two or three areas should always be prioritised.
What are these areas ? Attracting investment, raising the purchasing power, which means increasing demand, and enhancing economic and governance efficiency.
For that, we need to support specific industries that are facing hardships. This goes for the automobile industry, processing, agriculture should be on this list anyway, which is due to sanctions and retaliatory measures, as well as a number of other industries. They are all mentioned in the Government plan.
There is no doubt whatsoever that we need to ensure and increase the demand. How ? We need to assist people in difficult straits. We also need to boost industrial demand through targeted support measures that I have mentioned, including, by the way, the construction industry, despite the fact that 85 million square metres of real estate were built last year, as I have mentioned.
We need to continue to balance macroeconomic and budget policies, keeping the budget deficit within 3 percent and giving more political and economic freedoms to businesses, as well as improve the business climate.
These are the five key areas that we must and will work on. It is on these areas that we should base our efforts to foster economic development. We need to put the country back on the track of steady economic growth. We can and will do it based on the Government’s anti-crisis plan.
As for privatisation, there is nothing unusual in this respect. If you look at the articles I published in the run-up to the 2012 presidential election, I wrote that privatisation could be supported, including in the oil and gas sector, which refers to major state-owned companies. So there is nothing unusual.
Why are we doing it on a falling market ? First, we need money. Second and most importantly, we will be looking for a strategic partner who understands that skimping is not an option when it comes to buying a 19 percent stake in Rosneft. There is no need to pay attention to the current stock prices. We should be forward-looking. If we find a partner of this kind, and I think that it is possible, we will be ready to move ahead with privatisation despite a falling market, as you have said".
-"You will meet with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in May. You will probably discuss the northern territories and peace treaty issues. What kind of compromises would Russia be willing to consider, in your view ?"
"In order for compromises to be considered, we first need to have an on-going and uninterrupted dialogue, but Japan took the decision to limit contacts with us at one point.
I do not think this is at all in the interests of Japan and its people. At the same time though, we see that despite the pressure from their partners, in particular from the USA, our Japanese friends do seek to maintain relations with us.
We therefore welcome the Japanese Prime Minister’s visit to Russia. We will discuss all the different problems, of course. In order to resolve these problems that we have not yet resolved since the end of World War II, the instruments we have put in place must function continuously.
I think that some kind of compromise can and will be found".
-"Will South Ossetia become part of Russia ? Is South Ossetia not abusing your support ? They cannot create an independent state and want to join Russia. Will you help them with some kind of legal procedure ?"
"I didn’t understand the question".
-"You met with [President of South Ossetia] Tibilov and had discussions".
-"And then Tibilov went back to Tskhinval and said that there would be a referendum to decide whether the people want to give the head of state the power to establish a union body with Russia and transfer powers to this body, because Russia cannot take South Ossetia into the Russian Federation at the moment for political reasons. Will you establish this union body and have South Ossetia’s territory join Russia ? Would this not amount to annexation of South Ossetia’s territory ?"
"We are not looking at such an option for our relations with South Ossetia. Everyone knows that we recognised South Ossetia, and I have set out our position on this matter on many occasions. I think that the former Georgian President made a fundamental strategic mistake when he launched the military operations we remember, without any justification, and it is his fault that he lost this territory as a result.
But we have not discussed the matter you raise in any detail with South Ossetia’s leadership. Mr Tibilov did speak about this matter, and said that South Ossetia’s people want to hold such a referendum. We cannot oppose this. Nothing holds us back except for the interests of the South Ossetian people themselves. We do not yet know though just what this referendum will involve and how the final wording will look. Once we know, depending on this, we will look at the situation and decide from there".
-"Why are you so sure that any criticism of Russia, including the recent information about your friends and the Panama papers, is a plot against Russia ?
And one more question if you’ll allow : Nadia Savchenko, the Ukrainian pilot, has declared a hunger strike. Are you willing to exchange or free her ?"
"Let’s start with the second matter. We are in touch with the Ukrainian government on this matter. Our partners know our position. It is better to take things one step at a time with such things.
As for the matter of news campaigns, we do not think they are plots. I never said this, but I do think that such information does not appear without a reason. We think this because no one in Russia’s leadership is on these lists, but there is a clear desire to smear us with this affair. I just spoke about this in detail during the Direct Line with Russia’s people. Should I repeat myself again ? I think there is no need for this".