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March 7, 2007
[Putin Address:] Excerpts from the Transcript of the Session of the Presidential Council for Implementing Priority National Projects and Demographic Policy
March 7, 2007
Grand Kremlin Palace, Moscow

PRESIDENT VLADIMIR PUTIN: Good afternoon, colleagues.

We have two important items on our agenda today: our current demographic policy objectives and the related issue of rural development raising living standards and fostering economic development in rural areas.

As you know, I outlined the main goals of our demographic policy a year ago in my Address to the Federal Assembly, and I spoke then of creating conditions to encourage women to give birth, of measures to bring down the high death rate, and of developing a more competent system for managing migration flows. We have for the most part carried out the work we set for 2006. By that, I mean that the necessary laws have been passed, financing provisions have been made, and real coordination between the work of the federal and regional authorities is now in place. This does not mean that we have resolved all our problems, and indeed, resolving the demographic issue still requires a lot of work, but the organisational and financial issues have been settled.

Now, starting from this year, we have begun the practical implementation of the measures set out in the Address. I want to stress that this is not a closed list and new objectives could and should be added to it, and I will speak in more detail on this point today. I hope that you too will share your views on this matter.

As we focus on implementing the priority measures for improving the demographic situation, we also need to start thinking about the long-term outlook. As you know, the experts say that when it comes to demographics, planning needs to be not for the next year or two, but for the next three generations. In other words, what is required is strategic planning. This is the only way to not just turn around the negative trends we see today, but to stabilise the situation and eventually bring about a gradual increase in our countrys population. It is precisely for this reason that the instruction was given to draft a systematised and carefully calculated demographic policy concept. This document is not being drawn up for the authorities, or not just for the authorities, anyway, but is intended above all for the citizens of Russia. National demographic policy should be the product of public demand, should be clear and comprehensible to the public and based on the active involvement of our citizens themselves.

The states efforts alone, no matter how strong and wealthy the state is, cannot suffice to change the situation. A great amount depends on peoples attitudes to their own health.

I have just come from a meeting with women representing public organisations, women who work at the practical level on demographic and child education issues and are directly involved in raising a large number of children. They also raised this same issue of the importance of educating people to take the right attitude to their own health, to the health of their children and their parents, and to the institution and values of the family. Political parties, civil society organisations and the media can all play a big part in this work, of course.

Coming to the specific tasks at hand, as I have already said, all of the national projects will have a direct impact on the demographic situation. Today we need to talk about what we can do to give these projects an even clearer focus on our demographic development goals, how to make these goals part of our programmes in the areas of healthcare, education and the provision of affordable housing to young families.

What we want to achieve through this common work is for Russian families to live comfortably, for people to have decent employment and housing, good quality healthcare services and access to pre-school education for their children.

It is extremely important that urban development projects make provisions for simple but essential things like kindergartens, childrens play areas, and sports facilities, and that housing designs provide for basic conveniences such as ramps for prams. Incidentally, at my meeting with the representatives of womens organisations earlier, we also discussed this matter of how housing designs give practically no consideration to the interests of large families. The women I met with said that there simply are not any housing design projects here at the moment geared to the needs of large families.

I would like to say a few words separately about the problems related to the high death rate. As you know, the death rate continues to exceed the birth rate. The country is losing more than 700,000 people on average every year. The high death rate among working-age people remains a serious problem. Men account for 80 percent of the deaths in this group. The principle causes of this situation are well-known and include cardio-vascular diseases and so-called non-natural factors such as smoking and alcohol abuse.

Other problems that present a threat to peoples safety also remain. These problems include the safety situation on the streets, on the roads, and in workplaces. This list illustrates that the high death rate is not just a medical problem but also a social issue. Of course, we do need to improve our healthcare system, including the preventive medicine system, but reducing the risk factors in general will also play a huge part in increasing life expectancy in our country, and this is the concern of each individual just as it is of the local authorities, employers and society in general.

I would also like to note the primordial role played by the regions in resolving the whole range of demographic issues we face. A number of regions have already drawn up their own strategic demographic policy programmes. The other regions still have this task before them. These programmes should not only take into account the specific local situation and traditions, but also, above all, national policies in this area.

Today, on the eve of International Womens Day, I would like to stress once again the immense importance of motherhood and the huge responsibility that women have for raising children.

I would like to take this occasion to offer my most sincere congratulations to all Russias women on this upcoming holiday and wish them all health and prosperity.

Now I would like to say a few words about the second item on our agenda today.

As you know, the Federal Law on Agriculture Development was adopted last December. The laws goal is to target state support measures on developing the agri-business sector and on developing the rural areas in general. This law will provide the basis for drafting a state agriculture development programme, which will consolidate our work on comprehensive rural development. [Agriculture Minister] Alexei Gordeyev will give more detail on the programmes preparation later.

I would like to say a few words briefly on the following points.

First, this programme should not focus exclusively on agricultural production. It is important to develop modern policies for organising rural life in general. We need to maintain the rural way of life, but in a new and modern form, giving it the infrastructure, roads and transport it needs and ensuring that rural areas are connected to the gas network. Implementation of the national projects in the rural areas should contribute to reaching all of these objectives. We also need to intensify as much as possible work to stimulate job creation in the rural areas and, given the development of new technology making agriculture less labour-intensive, we need to focus particularly on creating jobs not just in agriculture but in other sectors too.

Second, we need to support small-scale farming, for it can make a big contribution to overall agricultural production. Sometimes small farms can be more profitable and productive than large agri-businesses. Furthermore, these small-scale agricultural ventures make a significant social contribution by creating employment in rural areas. It is in the states interest and it is the states duty to create the conditions that will enable more and more solid ventures to develop in agriculture and in the rural areas in general. But many of the problems in this area are being resolved very slowly. I will not go now into the problem of what people are supposed to do with the abstract stakes that they hold [stakes entitling them to a share of land in former collective farms] and how to turn them into actual concrete assets that they can use, but this is a problem that has still not been resolved at administrative level.

Another issue is that of ensuring sales markets for Russias agricultural produce. Producers at all levels should be assured of having stable and guaranteed markets. In this area we need to pay particular attention to developing the infrastructure for primary processing of livestock industry products.

I would also like to hear today about the state of progress with the law on markets and on agricultural cooperative development in general.

I propose that we begin our work now and I give the floor to [First Deputy Prime Minister] Dmitry Medvedev.

FIRST DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER DMITRY MEDVEDEV: Dear Vladimir Vladimirovich! Dear Colleagues!

It is obvious why improving the demographic situation already is a national priority. Since we have already been faced more than once by the fact that failing to accomplish key social and economic tasks, and effectively ensure our national security hinders Russias demographic development. And we are all well aware of the difficult situation in strategic areas such as Siberia and the Far East. Following a huge migratory outflow a number of regions have literally been depopulated and, along with this, there is generally low life expectancy and high mortality in Russia. According to these indicators Russia is not only worse off than developed countries but, unfortunately, also worse off than many developing countries. Measured by life expectancy Russia is 100th in the world and by life expectancy for men, 134th.

Along with this, there have been some positive improvements over the past few years. Last year 1.3 percent more children were born than in 2005 and the mortality rate dropped by 6 percent. In particular, deaths from diseases of the circulatory system diseases and external causes such as road accidents were consistently lower.

A few words about the data on natality and mortality rates, which date from the first few weeks of 2007. I will now quote these figures and they are quite good.

In January 2007 14.7 percent more children were born than in January 2006, and that amounts to 16,000 babies. And in a number of regions this figure is much higher than the Russian average. For example, in the Lipetsk region the birth rate increased by 25 percent, by 23 percent in the Ivanovo region, and by 18 percent in the Voronezh region. In January 2007 the death rate was 9 percent less than last years.

It is obvious that in the next few years we simply must improve the trends in demographic development. Last year the President of the Russian Federation set us this task. Concrete measures were adopted then and are being implemented today. To attain these goals we have increased childcare benefits for children younger than a year and a half. Today around 850,000 working women receive these benefits and, for the first time, more than 270,000 unemployed women. Almost 1,500 women already have government certificates for maternity capital and, as of the beginning of March, about 8,700 women had made the necessary applications to the Pension Fund.

We have also adopted measures to support families with children. Six billion roubles have been allocated from the federal budget to this effect. We expect that in 2008 no less than 80,000 orphans should receive a home.

I will emphasise that it is natural and necessary that each child that does not benefit from parental care receive constant attention from the municipal agencies responsible for this problem. And not only while children live in schools also after they are put in foster care.

According to the present distribution of powers, it is the regions that must determine the minimal amounts required to support children in foster families or in foster homes. This amount should be no less than 4,000 roubles. And the regions must also establish a salary for foster parents that amounts to no less than 2,500 roubles per child. But regions certainly can provide more funds than this; we would only welcome that initiative.

We have already provided for federal grants to do this. And to ensure that these grants reach the families, regions need to adopt all necessary legislation and to complete the organisational measures. These same requirements apply to resolving problems linked with compensating part of the parental expenses on childrens preschool and education expenses generally. Before March 20 the regions must finish this work so that by the beginning of April families can receive the money they are due. Meanwhile, we have unfortunately learned that a number of regions have not yet adopted legislation on these issues. Sometimes it is linked with the fact that a Legislative Assembly is not operating, sometimes simply with organisational problems. These regions include the Kaluga region, Daguestan, Ingushetia, the Saratov region, Smolensk, St Petersburg, Moscow and others. This situation must be rectified in the near future.

Dear colleagues!

All national projects, just like social policy as a whole, must now focus on resolving problems linked with demographic development. In particular, there are still too many obstacles that prevent many Russian families from fulfilling their desire to have at least two children. And we really do require comprehensive governmental measures in this sphere.

One sharp problem today involves women returning to the workplace after maternity leave. Such guarantees are stipulated in the law and everyone knows about them but, in practice, employers sometimes force women to transfer to less desirable jobs and often for lower wages. And this occurs despite the fact that this is strictly forbidden by legislation and that criminal law provides for specific sanctions in these cases.

In connection with this we must implement special measures designed to give women with young children the chance to work with flexible hours. In addition, we need to plan events to help these women improve their skills. We also need to take care of and provide quality infrastructure for preschool education. Parents should not only have the chance to place their child in kindergarten but also to be tranquil for the duration of their childs stay. Today more than 900,000 children are in nurseries and in kindergartens. In view of the predicted increase in birth rates over the next three years, this number can grow. For that reason regional and local authorities need to pay constant attention to developing networks for preschool education. This network only started to recover a few years ago and too little has been done to date.

In addition, other forms of preschool education are also on the agenda today. For example, family kindergartens or part-time groups. In the near future we plan to examine measures to support families whose children are enrolled in nongovernmental preschool facilities, if indeed these facilities offer all necessary conditions for normal education.

There remains one key question that is directly related with resolving demographic problems, namely the problem of adequate housing. As you know, a number of events are already taking place within the national projects Accessible Housing, and the Development of the Agro-Industrial Complex. In two years we plan to provide support to more than 100,000 young families and more than 30,000 of those are young families living in rural areas.

In January the Council Presidium gave instructions to prepare federal target programmes within the existing programmes Housing, and the Social Development of Rural Areas. Certain regions already have effective programmes in this sphere and we intend to study their experience carefully.

We will introduce new types of subsidies for young families and provide different levels of federal financial support according to the regions and their respective financial situations. We are developing mechanisms to provide targeted support to young families to purchasing housing in Siberia, the Far East and other sparsely populated regions.

I believe that other proposals also deserve our attention, including proposals such as providing special mortgages for young families that include deferrals, and not only of interest rate payments but also for paying back the original amount received when the child was born. A number of banks have put forward such ideas. We are also examining proposals to reorient mortgage subsidies so that they can better support families with children. It is no secret that today, in order to receive a mortgage, both spouses need to work just to provide the necessary sum of money. And it is often precisely for this reason that they delay having children.

I believe that we also need to work actively towards ensuring harmonious urban development, as Vladimir Vladimirovich mentioned in his speech. And we are going to pay special attention to increasing the construction of modern, low-cost housing so-called economy-class housing for those who want to subsequently invest the money they received as maternity capital.

As we revive and maintain our Russian traditions, we are beginning to actively develop low-rise housing. The State Duma is now working on creating the appropriate legislative framework for this sphere in a new chapter of the Housing Code, a chapter devoted to low-rise housing and measures to stimulate it.

Dear colleagues!

As the President said, among the basic factors that contribute to the difficult present demographic situation is the high mortality rate. The high mortality rate among the working age population is particularly alarming. Each more than two million people die in Russia and a significant number of them die for reasons which, in the most cases, could have been prevented. First and foremost they include various types of vascular diseases, intoxication and accidents. Last year these factors caused the death of more than 270,000 people. Each year approximately 35,000 people die in road accidents in Russia. I believe that we could insert additional special measures that concern these problems into the national project, Health.

Today we are examining the issue of equipping reanimation medical facilities located throughout the road network. We are also planning to develop the network of poison control centres. We must pay special attention to cardiovascular diseases which kill more than a million people every year.

In this respect it is urgent that we introduce so-called non-intrusive technology and non-intrusive surgery into general medical practice. And to do so we need to establish modern centres based on effective healthcare institutions in the regions. These centres obviously require adequate equipment and qualified personnel. Our data show that prompt medical intervention can lower the mortality rate for victims of road accidents by one and a half times, for victims of acute intoxication by a half, and for victims of circulatory diseases by 20 percent. For that reason improving the quality of healthcare in all these categories is our goal.

Moreover, we need to improve the quality of healthcare for pregnant women, including those who have high-risk pregnancies. In this respect it is important to pay attention both to the training of medical personnel as well as upgrading and reequipping existing obstetrics establishments. Today approximately 85 percent of the equipment in such establishments is out of date and in all of Russia only about 30 medical facilities provide up to date obstetric assistance that corresponds with modern requirements.

As of 2008 we plan to establish 20 modern perinatal centres in Russia. We are counting on the willingness of the regions to help finance these projects. And not only on the regions.

Last week at a meeting with representatives of the business community, we discussed demographic problems and came to the general conclusion that entrepreneurs have their own mission and responsibilities with respect to caring for people.

A few words about migratory policy. A number of important documents have recently been adopted in this sphere. The programme for attracting our compatriots abroad to take up permanent residence in Russia holds a special place in this respect. We are taking steps to ensure that they benefit from decent employment, that their families have access to social services, and can easily integrate Russian society. This work has only just begun and there still remains a great deal to be done, first and foremost in the regions.

Dear colleagues!

I would like to emphasise once again that the regions play a determinate role in implementing demographic policy. Several regions already have their own, very important, programmes in this sphere. However, many regions are still in the process of developing such programmes. Such programmes must take into account events taking place within the framework of priority national projects and, naturally, be supplemented by the regions own events. And along with this we are going to try and learn from regional experiences in this sphere.

And I would also like to point out two things.

First. Additional demographic policy measures must be developed based on serious scientific foundations, including statistical evidence and such evidence is not always adequate in Russia. Such work is essential for determining the levels of funding.

And the second thing, namely the significance of the work done by institutions of civil society designed to resolve demographic problems. This work is especially important with respect to taking care of orphans.

I would emphasise that we are counting on the active participation of nongovernmental organisations in the process of providing the necessary services in the future, and we are going to actively involve them in this process.

I highlighted a number of practical problems whose resolution would significantly improve the demographic situation. Today these are priority measures. However, it is well-known that the complex and multifaceted issues that affect demographics must first and foremost be considered in the long-term quite a long-term future. We require public discussions in this sphere and we must discuss proposals made by the public. The specialists who recently met within the Expert Council on National Projects and Demographic Development need to have their say in this respect.

Thank you.