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BBC Monitoring
Putin says Russia had a good year in national live phone-in
Source: Russia TV, Moscow, in Russian 0900 gmt 24 Dec 01

The year 2001 was "successful" for Russia, but work must continue to strengthen the achievements so far and improve things further, President Vladimir Putin said in a wide-ranging live national phone-in. He highlighted increases in industrial and farm output and rising wages and pensions, although he acknowledged a generally low standard of living in Russia. Asked about the apparent dependence of Russia's budget revenue on the world oil price, Putin said the government and parliament had worked hard together to produce conditions for greater investment in the economy, and this should lessen the importance of oil exports. In response to questions on relations with the USA and the ABM Treaty, Putin said that although Russia did not agree with the USA's decision to tear up the treaty, Russia's security was not directly affected, and relations were otherwise developing in positive ways. Putin promised more state attention and money for the military, the defence industry and science, and acknowledged the need for reforms to improve the legal system and beat corruption. He also found time to answer some questions on his past and his family life. The following in an excerpt from the report, broadcast on Russia TV, Russian Public TV, Mayak radio and Radio Russia on 24 December. Subheadings have been inserted editorially:

[Russian Public TV presenter Yekaterina Andreyeva] This is a special programme by Russian Public TV and Russia TV. We will be interviewing President Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin in a live link-up. The radio channels, Radio Russia and Mayak, are also relaying the question-and-answer session.

[Russian TV presenter Sergey Brilev] We are broadcasting from a room in the Moscow Kremlin, from where any place in the country can be contacted...

[Andreyeva] Hello, Mr President.

[Putin] Good evening...

[Brilev] As the year comes to an end, let me ask you, Vladimir Vladimirovich, the first question: Are you happy with the results of the year?

[Putin] To answer this question we must recap on the tasks that were set at the start of the year back in January. Several tasks were set. By and large they were: to maintain positive tendencies in the Russian economy, improve the population's living standards on this basis and create conditions for the positive development of the state in the medium term.

Economic performance in 2001 shows a successful year for Russia

[Putin] If we look at what we have at the end of the year, the results are as follows: We planned economic growth of 4 per cent and it turned out to be 5.5 per cent. At the end of this year or the beginning of the next we'll know the full final figures.

The growth of industrial output amounted to 5.2 per cent and agriculture did even better. I'd like to congratulate workers in agriculture as, to a great extent this has been a record-breaking year for them. I'm not even talking of the cereals crop, which was 83.7m tonnes, more than for many years. But if we look at the dynamics, it's even7 more impressive. Three years ago we had 48m tonnes, two years ago 55m, last year 64.5m, or nearly 65m, and this year 83.7m, or nearly 84m [tonnes].

But even this isn't the most important thing, the most important thing is that, according to data from specialists and perhaps this needs to be checked but, nevertheless they're saying that the per-hectare yield was the highest in the entire history of Russia.

Now to the main issue: the growth of the population's income, which was as follows: There was a steady growth in income that began last year. Last year it amounted to 6 per cent and this year to 6.5 per cent. The average salary and I'd like to stress that this is the average salary, grew 20-21 per cent. I have to point out at the beginning that this was less so when it came to the military and to public-sector workers.

In total, 60m people work in our economy, of whom 10m are state employees. The salaries of state employees were increased through index-linking only once this year, when they went up 20 per cent in January.

On the other hand, however, this year we have dealt with debt repayments from previous years. And we set aside twice as many funds as last year for this. At the beginning of the year, in January, debts to the state sector amounted to more than R3.5bn and this has now been reduced to R1.5bn.

The number of the unemployed has significantly decreased in real terms from 11.1 per cent to 8.9 per cent. This is somewhere in the region of 1.5m people and is, in itself, a significant figure.

The Central Bank's gold reserves have increased. The rouble has strengthened. It's true that we haven't been able to achieve the planned tempo for reducing inflation. Inflation is lower than last year but not as low as planned in budget forecasts.

All of this has contributed to a certain, clear psychological breakthrough. This is demonstrated by the fact that we have managed to maintain a positive trend as regards the birth rate. In a generally negative demographic context, the birth rate has gone up. This is testimony to the fact that for the state, for individual companies, and for individual people, for families, the so-called planning horizon has been extended.

Overall, though, it is clear that an awful lot of problems remain unsolved, and the population's standard of living is still very low. Let's take pensioners as an example. Their standard of living is very low. However, their income has grown by a record figure of 23 per cent over the past year. These are the figures in real terms, in real terms. The actual figures are even higher, they come to 40-50 per cent.

Pensioners' incomes have grown 23 per cent in real terms, minus inflation. Anyway, the standard of living remains quite low but the dynamics are very positive, and all of this taken together enables us to say that the results of the work, the work of all of us - and when I say us I mean the whole country - can be considered satisfactory and I can boldly state that 2001, the outgoing year, was successful for Russia.

[Brilev] It certainly looks like a good year...

[Andreyeva] Let's start with Maritime Territory... Residents of Vladivostok will be the first to be able to ask questions...

[Unidentified man] I am a teacher at a children's art school. I'd like to ask you a question which is very, very important for our Territory. Electricity and heat prices are growing rapidly. No salary can keep up with such prices. Can you tell us whether the state is going to deal with this problem? Or are you planning to farm us out to the Unified Energy System of Russia [UES].

Far East energy crisis shows need to overhaul pricing policy

[Putin] I should tell you that, in general, UES is not alien either: it's a state company. But it goes without saying that we can't farm out a single person to a single company, let alone a whole territory. And we'll have nothing to do with this.

In general, the question of electricity supplies to a territory like Maritime Territory, and the [Russian] Far East as whole, is a big problem for the state. I should point out that back in Soviet times, unfortunately, they failed to create a stable system for the supply of heat and electricity in the Territory. You know that to a great extent the Territory operates on the basis of fuel which has to be transported there, on the basis of expensive fuel oil and expensive coal which has to be brought in either from Yakutia or from other areas of the country.

The power grid is not sufficiently developed. With regard to this, the state and, of course, UES first and foremost with the support of the state, is planning to implement a series of programmes designed to develop this sector. One of these is the Burey state electrical power plant, in Amur Region, which is to be commissioned in the second quarter of 2003.

We will continue to develop the electricity sector in Kamchatka, where recently a thermal, a geothermal power station was put into commission. We shall also continue developing the gas sector. The government thought long and hard about whether to halt construction of a power station in Magadan. It was decided to carry on with this construction project. It will be commissioned rather later than the Burey state electrical power plant though.

Together all this, along with the additional efforts by the state and the companies operating in this sector, should bring about positive results. However, we cannot limit our efforts to this. We have to undertake a general restructuring of the whole system for supplying heat and electricity to the population, and all the more so to the population of a region which is as important to the country as the Far East.

A balance has to be established between the prices for consumers and producers of power and heat and natural and normal economic relations must be developed. Of course, the population must not feel the impact of the complex nature of this process and the growth in their income, of course, must be ahead of the growth of rates and prices.

[Brilev] While we are linked up with Vladivostok, maybe they should have one more question, it's getting late there...

[Unidentified man] Good day, Vladimir Vladimirovich. I have this simple question. You're talking about reforms but as a mere student, like most of the people of Maritime Territory who have gathered here, I don't understand what that is. If we look at housing reform, which you often talk about, for example, in reality it seems that nothing is being reformed. What we see is that housing payments are going up but the rusty pipes in flats just keep on leaking.

Mr President, please explain what this housing reform's about, what the essence of it is and why we need it.


Housing reform hasn't got off the ground; money must reach individuals

[Putin] Thank you for this question. It's true that not much is happening in this sphere but it has to be said that the reform hasn't started yet. There's only talk about this reform. It is approximately the same as if one of us suffered from some difficult chronic illness for many years and then came to the doctor and said: I'll have tests tomorrow - I want to join the crew of cosmonauts - please give me a pill because tomorrow I have to pass my medical with flying colours. Such miracles do not happen.

The problems in the housing maintenance system have been building up over the years and not only over the last 10 years. You're quite a young man, and I don't think of myself as an old man either but I can remember and the people of my generation can remember very well the large number of anecdotes about plumbers back in Soviet times. "We haven't got the right screw, the pipe's burst. Here's a leak, there's another one" - it's always been like that. This under-funding went on for decades. But even though in Soviet times the municipalities owned all this, it was actually financed by central government because the leaders of the relevant planning commissions and executive committees [Russian: ispolkom] as they were called went to Moscow or the regional capital, squeezed out some money, as they put it, and it all trickled down, even as far as the housing estates' maintenance services.

There wasn't enough of anything, everything was under-funded, everything was slowly falling apart but somehow it all kept going. From the 1990s all building and utilities services have been handed over to the municipalities. The municipalities' financial and budget resources are not, of course, sufficient in any way to the demands of the utilities system. So there's a lot to do in this area, and above all, we must start by making sure that the money the state provides, including money the federal budget, does not go into the pockets of monopoly companies in the regions - state-run or not, the important thing is that they are monopolies - but straight to the people, to you and to other property owners.

When people can accumulate this money in their own personal accounts - special ones of course - can create owners' or tenants' cooperatives and buy these services themselves, then this state money will be used much more effectively. Specialists calculate that we would need about 20 per cent less money than we are spending in this area today.

Also, something which is quite important for a country like ours where the population is not so well off, state assistance will be targeted to those who really need it. People with high incomes should pay the full whack...

[Correspondent Kirill Kleymenov at Ostankino TV centre] I've just been told by the producers that we have a live link-up with Volgograd...

Putin promises to intercede to ensure veteran receives correct pension

[Female voice] I'm Antonina Yemelyanovna Arzhanova. I took part in the war [WWII]. My pension is only R1,000. Please can you help me? I served in the army...

[Putin] I understand your question, Antonina Yemelyanovna. Thank you for asking it. I was quite surprised to hear you say that since the average pension for the country has exceeded the target figure that was set at the start of the year.

Generally speaking it's a well-known fact that the state has paid pensioners the necessary attention for the past two years. At least it has been paying as much attention to pensioners as it could. As I said on average pensions have gone up approximately 23 per cent. There's been a still bigger increase for war veterans and invalids.

Hold on, let me just find the figure first - yes, here it is - the pension of WWII veterans have now increased by R1,250 and now comes to R3,400. It's rather strange that your pension has not yet been re-calculated. This is obviously a mistake by the relevant authorities. They should have dealt with it. I hope the studio will give us your telephone number. I promise you this issue will be resolved...

[Andreyeva] Andrey Kondrashov is in Novosibirsk and its residents will now be able to ask their questions...

[Correspondent] The next question will be asked by Candidate of Science Dmitriy Kolker, from the institute of laser physics.

Funding for science to focus on fundamental science and sectoral housing

[Kolker] Vladimir Vladimirovich, there is a lot of talk about the upturn in the Russian economy. What is going to happen to the fundamental and applied sciences sector? Are you planning to increase research funding in that sphere?

[Putin] You know, I've said it many times but I think it's important to say it again: science and education are without doubt much more important for us even than energy exports, than oil and gas, because they are what set us apart from those countries that we only recently called developing countries. It goes without saying that the state should pay due attention to science.

I also agree that it has not received the attention it deserves for many years. But I'd also like to point out that in the last two years, the government has been carrying out all the current spending set down in the budget. Just yesterday I was talking to the president of the [Russian] Academy of Sciences about this, and he confirmed that on the whole, there had been a small amount of growth this year. Next year, growth is planned at 40-50 per cent for fundamental and applied science. I know you'll say that applied science is a special case and of course I think branches of industry should look after the branches of science that serve them. But fundamental science is of course the state's concern.

Taking planned inflation into account, the real incomes of employees in this field will be slightly lower but the government has decided this year to spend the money paying wages to fundamental-science workers and solving their housing problems. The year after, in 2003, the government will focus on financing the scientific process. One would like to do this immediately, but, unfortunately, the possibilities of the budget are such that they allow us to resolve the issue in stages...

[Andreyeva] Siberia, you can ask Vladimir Putin another question.

[Correspondent] There are lots of students in Siberia so this is a question from the student body. Svetlana Serebryakova, a second-year student at the Novosibirsk branch of Tomsk State University...

Greater investment should lessen budget reliance on oil-sector prices

[Serebryakova] How long will Russia's economy continue to depend on world oil prices?

[Putin] [sighs deeply] You know Svetlana, I wouldn't say the Russian economy depends - what are you studying?

[Serebryakova] International relations.

[Putin and presenter laugh] Your question reflects your specialization. The Russian economy does not depend on oil prices. The Russian budget depends on oil prices. That's true and it depends on them to quite a significant degree because export sales of energy still account for 30 per cent of hard-currency budget revenue. That's true. Of course, it is a matter that causes us all concern: Can the state honour its social commitments for the coming year if world oil and gas prices start to fall? This puts the budget in a rather tricky situation.

But I have to say that it is calculated on the basis of the minimum oil price, according to the so-called pessimistic scenario. Second, and most important, and I would like to draw your attention to this as a future specialist in international relations: the fact is that all our efforts this year in our joint, and rather tense, work with parliament - and I have to say at the start in answer to the first question that parliament has worked itself into the ground this year.

I'm not being sarcastic. Because, indeed, MPs laboured until 10, until 11 at night, and sometimes all night. The most important thing that was achieved during that time was the drafting and adoption of a whole range of packages, including packages relating to the economy, or areas that exert an influence on the development of the economy, which should form the premises for the development, the prosperous development of the country in the medium term.

And if so, then starting from next year, a stable and healthy climate for investment should be created. And if this comes about, the funds accumulated by, among others, our oil companies, and other companies which have traded for a number years in raw materials, will be able to be redeployed in other sectors of the Russian economy. And overall this may even have a positive effect. For this, it is necessary that the country is such, I repeat, that it is in a position not only to pass these laws but to ensure their implementation...

[Brilev] I think it's only fair to remind people that the most popular form of communication is still the telephone rather than satellite TV. And now we can go over to the telephone centre in Ostankino. Kirill, over to you.

[Kleymenov] ... A whole group of calls addressed to the president are connected with Chechnya. I'm told a call on this subject came in a minute ago from Moscow. Now, if I'm not mistaken, we can hear live from this caller. Please, introduce yourself.

[Male voice] Rumyanstev, Ivan Mikhaylovich...

Putin convinced that Chechnya's separatist leaders will be caught in the end

[Rumyantsev] I'm a pensioner and I'm 71 years old. It's interesting that in the newspaper Argumenty I Fakty, Beslan Gantamirov says where [rebel Chechen warlord Shamil] Basayev and [rebel Chechen leader Aslan] Maskhadov are to be found in Chechnya. Why aren't special services using this information? Does it mean it's in someone's interest for the special services in Chechnya not to capture Maskhadov and Basayev?

[Putin] Of course it's not true, Ivan Mikhaylovich. Naturally no-one but bandits themselves can benefit from that. Otherwise why would we chop the leg off of one of their guys?

As regards the statement by Gantamirov, the one you've just mentioned, you're aware that he has been working as deputy [presidential] envoy to the Southern Federal District. Before that he worked as mayor of Groznyy. By and large he was also in charge of Chechnya's policemen. Therefore if he truly knew the whereabouts of this or that notorious bandit, he would have captured him. That is if he had the chance. Since I know his character, I've no doubt that this is what he would have done. I believe he was talking in general terms.

Anyway you should keep in mind one more thing: We're not just talking about two or three households. Several thousand people live in the settlements he mentioned. We should remember that the bandits prepared well in advance for such a course of events. I've no doubt they took a sufficiently large number of steps aimed at ensuring their own safety. I'm talking about an underground infrastructure, and so on.

Just carrying out special measures on a massive scale, connected with the so-called flushing-out operations, where thousands of people live - unfortunately we can't do that.

Nor can we use aircraft or heavy bombers, on settlements like these, as they did in Afghanistan. We mustn't forget that the people who live there are citizens of Russia and we must be extremely correct in the way we act. But I have no doubt that our special services will get them in the end...

[Andreyeva] Yes, we will now have a link-up with Yekaterinburg...

Bush and Putin's intelligence links made for common understanding

[Unidentified man] Good day, Vladimir Vladimirovich, I am very interested in a certain issue. As far as know, for a long time you worked in intelligence and, if I understand it properly, the main effort of our intelligence was aimed at strengthening the positions of our state on the world's political arena as a counterbalance to potential enemies. The main potential enemy was said to be the United States of America.

I am very interested in the following: What did you feel, Vladimir Vladimirovich, when you stayed overnight at the ranch of George W. Bush, the US leader.

[Putin] You're right. What's your name?

[Unidentified man] Aleksey.

[Putin] Aleksey, you're right, of course. During the times of the Soviet Union, the USA itself and the NATO bloc were regarded as the main enemy. In the official documents of the organization where I worked, the United States were referred to as the main enemy.

But frankly, I was not too worried about staying overnight at Bush's ranch. I think he himself had to think about what was going on when he admitted a former employee of Soviet foreign intelligence to his place.

In addition to everything else, I can tell you, and I think you know abut this, the incumbent president of the Unites States is a son of a former director of the Central Intelligence Agency of the USA, who afterwards became president of the United States.

So you might say we were like family and understood each other pretty well...

[Unidentified woman] Hello, Vladimir Vladimirovich... My husband Leonid and I - my name's Anna - got married recently and it turns out we both work for the state. I'm a schoolteacher and Leonid is studying medicine and will soon be a doctor. I probably don't need to tell you about our laughable wages. Thank you for gradually increasing them but I'm sure you agree that a fundamental solution to this problem is needed...

Public-sector wages to rise; private health care to be developed

[Putin] The situation really is difficult. I talked about this at the start of the programme and I'd like to say it again: We could not embark on realistic and serious increases in wages for state workers until we had settled the state's accumulated debts from past years. As I said, we have cut the backlog from R3.5bn to R1.5bn.

Let's be frank: we shouldn't make promises we can't keep and then break them, or - pardon my French - scrape together the money at the expense of other areas. In the end, that would simply destroy the economy. On the whole, we have completed our first task in this area. The debts have mainly been paid off - although not in full.

We were therefore planning to increase wages as of next year. Having taken into account the results of this year's work we came to a conclusion - the deputies think so as well - there will be an increase, a substantial increase of 40-60 per cent in real terms, minus inflation. All this is being implemented as of 1 December this year.

Of course this isn't enough. Leonid is absolutely right to say it isn't enough. You've mentioned two areas. They are both very important for the state: the health-care sector and education. These sphere are closely linked since they are both funded from the budget.

Let me first talk briefly about the health-care sector. The public health-care sector should be maintained since the majority of our citizens still have low incomes. But at the same time we should develop the private health-care sector. Here we are going to pay attention to health insurance. The money shouldn't go into a health establishment simply because it's there. But it should be paid for the quality of services rendered and the number of patients treated.

As soon as the health-insurance sphere accumulates sufficient funds for the money to start effectively reaching patients - the health-care sector and health-care workers will be better paid.

The government is now dealing with two issues in this sector right now. On the one hand it is drafting additional legal acts and, on the other hand, it is working on a feasibility study. It is also looking for sources of funding so as to create the start-up capital necessary for the health-insurance sector. In our country this is not sufficiently developed.

Regions to provide more funding for education

As far as schools are concerned, this is a completely separate matter and even more important to the state. And here there is no insurance principle whatsoever. Here the only option is direct financing. In particular, this concerns secondary schools rather than further education. Schools are in a difficult position, as is the case with the housing maintenance system, because they are in the hands of the municipal authorities which lack sufficient funds and sufficient revenues for their budgets to maintain schools in the correct state. Are we talking about Sverdlovsk?

[Presenters] Yekaterinburg.

[Putin] Ah, Yekaterinburg. You in Yekaterinburg Region have the only schools which are on strike at the moment in Russia. And by the way, Yekaterinburg is a region producing revenue, a donor region. Why does this happen? Because there are certain difficulties with even the state-region level affording assistance to the municipal level, including schools.

I think that maybe this problem should be solved and I'm prepared by the end of the year to sign a decree, an extremely mild one, recommending that the heads of Russian Federation regions target subsidies at schools, maintain their material bases and the levels of teachers' pay. For its part, the federal budget will lend them assistance...

[Brilev] I suggest we return to the telephone centre in Ostankino, where work is going on with Kirill Kleymenov...

Russia needs more flexible sentencing policy, prison is not enough

[Kleymenov] What we have here is a veritable avalanche of telephone calls... There are questions about specific cases but there are also more general questions. Here we have a specific example, Orenburg is on one of our direct lines. Good day, please introduce yourself...

[Male voice] Pavel Grigoryevich Gramov, a pensioner.

[Presenter] And your question to the president...

[Gramov] I have a question about something that is of great concern to me. How can you explain that the courts hand down long prison sentences for insignificant crimes rather than other punishments stipulated in criminal legislation.

[Putin] Pavel Grigoryevich, you've touched on a very painful issue. You've hit the nail on the head. This problem does exist. I think it's the state has a distorted policy on crime. It has been expressed in the Criminal Code and, of course, we have to think how to change it. Nothing like it is similar happening in other democratic countries. Of course, punishments which don't involve prison sentences can be handed down for insignificant crimes. At the same time, we must ensure that court rulings concerning people who have committed serious crimes are carried out and the state must be consistent here. The government has been set this task and we shall complete it...

[Andreyeva] The Internet is not such a popular means of communication as the telephone. However, it is developing fairly rapidly and we hope in a few years the Internet will become as popular as the telephone.

Vladimir Vladimirovich, a lot of questions are coming in. I don't even know where to begin. I have the latest figures. Up to now, 22,000 questions have been registered, almost 22,000.

Judicial reform aims to strengthen fight against crime and corruption

And now the director has just brought up on the screen the most popular questions. I like this one, which I will now ask. Petrov, a businessman from Moscow, and Andrey Cherkashin, a journalist. Do you know if the concept of a protection market exists in the country and that members of the law-enforcement agencies are ranked first in this crime rating? What do the upper echelons of power plan to do to defeat the country's most powerful organized crime groups?

[Putin] Yes, I do know. I know this kind of problem exists but there are no simple solutions to be had here. In general, I think that on this subject, which is closely related to another matter, corruption, there are undoubtedly many questions.

Generally speaking, corruption and abuse of power among state authorities, and even more so among the law-enforcement agencies, are not problems that affect Russia alone. They are a problem in a number of countries. However, in Russia it has acquired proportions which the state has no right to ignore.

In order to solve this problem, we have to change the situation in society at large, in the economy, in education. But we also need to take conscious administrative decisions. One of the areas in which these decisions need to be made is the strengthening of the law-enforcement agencies and the passing of judicial reforms.

It was for this very purpose that a package of laws on judicial reforms was adopted, with a view to strengthening the courts. To make them, in one way, more independent, and, in another way, to bring them under the control of society and the state.

As you know, from this, from next year a set of regulations will come into effect under the Criminal Procedure Law, according to which not a single citizen will be able to be interrogated when arrested, not only when in custody, without a lawyer present. What I'm trying to say is that if someone stops you in the street from 1 July 2002 onwards, he has no right to subject you to interrogation if you demand the presence of your lawyer. From next year, no criminal case can be instituted without consultation with the Prosecutor's Office. Until now, the police had the discretion to open a criminal case against any citizen. Decisions like this will now be made by Interior Ministry staff but after consultation with the Prosecutor's Office.

The system of courts has been strengthened. We have introduced an upper age limit for judges of 65 years. Previously, there was no age limit. A special procedure for taking judges to court, including on criminal charges, has been introduced. A procedure for dealing with judges has been drawn up. All this is prescribed in the law, and so on and so on. What is very important, in my opinion, although it is not directly related to the Internal Affairs Ministry's activities, however, is the general strengthening of law and order in the country. We have paid special attention to implementing Constitutional Court rulings. All these measures are designed to contribute towards strengthening the state's abilities to establish order in this sphere.

[Andreyeva] Thank you for that answer. I'd like to remind our viewers that they can send their questions via the Internet. Here's the address again: www.ortrtr.ru.

Putin turns compliment on raising Kursk to praise for Russia's submariners

Vladimir Vladimirovich, here's another question. A pensioner from St Petersburg, Lyudmila Konstantinovna Shchavinskaya says: I am the mother of Captain Third Rank Ilya Vyacheslavovich Shchavinskiy, who died on the Kursk submarine. You as president have honoured your word and the submarine has been raised. We are proud of you but tell me how people who tried to dissuade you from taking that decision can now look you in the eye...

[Putin] I'd like to thank you for the question. I must say that there were a lot of debates about raising the submarine. The decision I made was not an arbitrary one. It was based on the views of scientists with whom I worked separately and directly.

At the same time, I must honestly say that those who opposed raising the submarine used weighty arguments since no-one could have predicted with absolute certainty how it would all end. Therefore, I would not raise the question so bluntly. As for myself and the way the question was worded, I'd like to thank you for your kind words. I think you should first of all be proud of your relatives - your husbands, sons and all those who died on the Kursk sub and all those who are serving and continuing to serve in such difficult conditions. What they are doing is very important and so much needed by the country. I am talking about maintaining the country's defence potential.

[Brilev] Now is probably the time for a link-up with Murmansk, especially as we've started talking about the problems the navy is facing. Our correspondent Arkadiy Mamontov is there...

Servicemen's pay and housing problems to be tackled

[Unidentified naval officer] I'd like to ask you the following question: Do you think that the steps, which are being taken, will actually raise my standards of living to those of the middle class, for example. Thank you...

[Putin] I started my service as a lieutenant in 1975, at the end of 1975. My salary was R180 a month, not very big, even for those days but still quite substantial.

Of course, we must raise the incomes of our servicemen not only to the country's average. I believe it should be slightly higher. Yesterday I talked and argued about this with some government members. I think servicemen's incomes should be slightly higher than those of civil servants, by at least 25 to 30 per cent. At the moment, there's still a long way to go, unfortunately. We haven't done a great deal for the army this year, unfortunately. We must be honest about this. The state has only paid off its debts to servicemen for benefits introduced last year for those who serve in the north and the Far East. And that's all. To a large extent this is because we have been drawing up, for quite a long time now unfortunately, a plan for developing the armed forces. In accordance with this plan, we had to draw up a programme of what to develop, whom to pay and how much.

From this year, there are plans to do the following: from 1 January the benefit for service in extreme conditions will be increased... That's the first thing.

Secondly, we are introducing payments that used to be paid to servicemen for being in charge of military subunits, the so-called commander's payments. This concerns chiefly middle-ranking commanders from regiment commander of the regiment and below. Generals will also get something but significantly less. On average this will be a small increase, only 10-15 per cent. But from 1 July next year there will be a significant increase: on average and I'd like to stress that this is on average, 40 to 60 per cent in actual payments. This is real money.

This is only the first step towards improving the economic wellbeing of the military. The next one is being planned, if everything goes well, and I very much hope it will, for 2003, when payment for military rank will be increased. If all this takes place, the gap between the average income of a serviceman and a civil servant at the same level would be about 30 per cent.

But the main problem today is providing housing to the military. Today we have 90,000 officers and non-commissioned officers without flats. This issue is not being resolved sufficiently effectively. To date this year only 13,700 or 13,800 servicemen have received a flat of their own. Additional money was allocated in December and 1,000 more will receive flats. Thus, 14,700 or 14,800 will have received flats. Last year, only 8,000 received flats.

Starting next year, it is planned to essentially double the number of people who will receive their own housing. By acting at this pace, we are counting on being able to gradually resolve this problem, too. But I'd like to use your question to draw attention to a few more things. I was talking about raising allowances for servicemen from July. Katya [Andreyeva] is getting worried, it looks like she wants another question, but I'll finish my answer to this one because I know it is of concern to servicemen. The simultaneous abolition of certain benefits is planned but I'd like to point out straight away that, firstly, individual benefits are being retained, in particular, travel to the point of service and back to go on leave and so on.

Tax benefits and housing and amenities benefits are being abolished. I'd like to clarify straight away that I have given instructions to the government to draw up and implement immediately a mechanism which would extend to servicemen the general rules for other citizens, for state officials. To be specific: if it is necessary to pay more than 22 per cent of the family's total income on housing and amenities, the state has to take on everything over and above that 22 per cent. I'd like you and all other officers to hear this. That's the first point. Secondly, benefits will be retained in full for pensioners who fall under the law on veterans. No benefits at all are being abolished for them. To be honest, they find themselves in an advantageous situation because, following an increase in the basic salary of servicemen, pensions will rise for this category of citizens - as you know, the pensions of all military pensioners are linked to the basic salary of servicemen - pensions will go up but veterans' benefits will not be abolished - none of them. I'd like to draw your attention to this. I know that the veterans are worried about this thing. These are our plans...

Defence industry benefiting from greater attention and more funding

[Unidentified man] My name is Nikolay Mikhaylovich Savinykh. I have worked for a Defence Ministry shipyard for the past 30 years. For the past 10, the plants have received almost no funding. You're aware that they are all buoyant. They employ millions of people . In this connection, I'd like to ask the following question: Does the government plan to help the military-industrial complex and especially the Defence Ministry plants?

[Putin] It might have been a slip of the tongue, Nikolay Mikhaylovich, when you used the word "buoyant". It wouldn't have been so bad if they had all been buoyant. What you probably meant is that they are lying on their backs. Indeed the military and industrial complex has found itself in a difficult condition over the past 10 years. You're absolutely right to draw my attention to this issue. If nothing else, one fact is worthy of mention: For the first time in the past 10 years a new vessel for the navy was commissioned in St Petersburg quite recently.

At the same time, since you're working in this sphere you might have noticed that the state has changed its approach to the military-industrial complex in the past two years. It's now paying it more attention. We've settled virtually all outstanding debts to the military industry. To be precise, we've settled 80 per cent and 20 per cent has been reserved and will be finally settled in the first quarter of 2002. That's the first thing.

And, of course, the defence industry has to be developed in conjunction with the development plans of the armed forces themselves. We've spent a long time drafting the strategy of development of the armed forces until 2010 and the plan for building the armed forces until 2005. The development of the military industry has also been set in accordance with this plan. For next year, 2002, the state is to increase allocations for these purposes by 30 per cent.

Nikolay Mikhaylovich, I think you'll agree that, as well as the defence industry, we also have doctors, teachers and pensioners and I simply don't have the right to pour everything into one place. I think this is most that the state can do for itself in this very important direction. We will try to meet all the tasks we have set for ourselves in this area.

Putin answers "personal" questions

[Andreyeva] ...We are once again linked to our telephone centre, where Kirill Kleymenov is working. Kirill, how's it going, are the lines still coping?

[Correspondent] They are, although there are very many calls. Since the beginning of the broadcast, about 7,000 phone calls have been dealt with in this telephone centre and the equipment is registering five to seven times more attempts to phone in. A rather significant group of questions are questions of personal nature, about one in 20 phone calls to the president... For example, student Dmitriy Shipunov from Barnaul asks the president whether he believes in omens. In other words, Vladimir Vladimirovich, are you a superstitious person?

[Putin] [hesitates] No less or no more than any of us.

[Correspondent] And another question. Yelena Vitalyevna Krasilnikova from Kostroma Region asks and puts it in rather an unusual way: Vladimir Vladimirovich, you are constantly meeting people, presidents, you are all the time in the public eye, you fly somewhere every day. Maybe you have a double but if not, when do you rest?

[Putin] Firstly, I don't fly every day although I do travel a lot inside the country and I am abroad frequently. I rest by playing sport. In my free time I try to play sport. Of course, I have no doubles. That's is all fairy tales.

[Correspondent] And now it's the turn of a caller who has come through to our live broadcast. I'm told it's a call from Yekaterinburg...

[Male voice] My name's Aleksandr. I have this question: Vladimir Vladimirovich, when did you earn your first money and what did you spend it on.

[Putin] I've already talked about this when I answered a question of one of the officers in Murmansk. No - I was about to mislead you. That was the first salary I had when I went to work to the security services... In actual fact, the first money I earned was when I worked as a member of a student construction team. We went to Komi, where we were cutting an opening under a high voltage power line and were involved in building and repairing residential buildings

I remember we earned fantastic money for those times - about R1,000. I think a car used to cost about 4,000. I have to confess that I didn't spent it as I should. I won't tell you how.

[Andreyeva] Thank you, Kirill. Out studio is now being connected with Rostov-na-Donu, and our correspondent Ilya Kanavin. Ilya, over to you...

Policy on refugees and migration should be good for Russia

[Correspondent] Hello. Rostov-na-Donu, the capital of the Southern Federal District, and the weather confirms this fact precisely, because, today it is not clear if it is late autumn or early spring. It's raining. Nevertheless, there are a great many people on the streets. Everyone wants to see what's actually happening rather than sitting at home watching TV...

[Unidentified man] Vladimir Vladimirovich, my name is Stanislav Aleksandrovich Zatonskiy. I'm a doctor. In the last few years, my colleagues and I have come across a great number of people, who are now referred to as involuntary migrants. There are a lot of them. In some areas and places in the region, they outnumber the local population. To say these people have a lot of problems is to say nothing.

It's practically impossible to solve this problem locally. Will these people have the opportunity to return home and when will they be able to do this? Thank you.

[Putin] Stanislav Aleksandrovich, this is indeed an important problem, especially for southern Russia. This is true. I can quote you the following figures. In recent years, approximately 8m people have come to Russia from countries of the former Soviet Union and the Commonwealth of Independent States. Of these 4m went on to live permanently in other countries or went back to where they came from. The other 4m remained in our country.

We spend certain amounts of money on this every year. Not very grand sums, but all the same significant for us. We've helped solve the housing problems of almost half a million people - 480,000 I think. I could be wrong, but not by much. Of them, 60,000 were given flats; the rest were given money, which, of course won't solve their problems altogether but will help them get housing. But look, we have 90,000 officers without flats; 60,000 who resettled got the chance to buy housing in Russia. Even for us that's a fair number.

Migration laws too lax, convoluted

Unfortunately, the sector is almost entirely unregulated. Our legislation is extremely lax and very convoluted. It is too politicized. I have to say that most industrially-developed nations resolve their demographic problems with the help of immigrants. They even conduct policies designed to attract immigrants to a certain extent and this leads to great problems. People arrive and they don't know the language, have a different culture and so on.

For us it's a gift from the gods, to be honest, that citizens of the former Soviet Union all speak Russian, are of one mindset, one culture, and so on. They adapt easily. But we must have an immigration policy that is good for us. We have to attract labour where the state needs it, not allow just anyone to go wherever they like. We don't have that situation. I have given corresponding instructions to the government and we will try to push this law through parliament.

Unfortunately I want to return to the theory that this issue is too politicized in Russia. Some members of parliament continue to insist that all citizens of the former Soviet Union, including Russian citizens, should have the right to everything. I think the period when we helped refugees has passed. Everyone who wanted to move has done so and everyone who wanted to become permanent residents of the republics they live in have stayed on. With few exceptions, that is few exceptions. What we should be doing, therefore, is working out normal migration legislation that's good for Russia and we will...

Heating cuts down to official "bungling"

[Boy's voice, introducing himself as Pavel Tsvetkov] My question is whether we will have to stay in the same year if this is not our fault that the authorities of our town are not providing heating to schools.

[Putin] Pasha, I think there is not a lot you can do, especially the students of this school. It's up to the grown-ups to solve the problem. A similar question has already been asked about the state of the municipal services in the country in general and certain regions in particular. The first question came from Maritime Territory, as you can well understand if you watch television, since there have been a lot of problems there in the past years, and not all of them have been solved. To let know you and your parents what is going on there, I must tell you that there are several levels of responsibility here: the federal, regional and local levels. Of course, schools and heating, all the system is de jure the responsibility of the municipal authorities.

But I think that basically they cannot, of course, cope with this in its entirety. The federal authorities should have ensured the appropriate reserves of fuel. As regards your region, and Maritime Territory, I can reiterate - I didn't say this with regard to Maritime Territory, I just didn't notice - but fuel reserves are currently greater than in any other year, they are up by more than 100 per cent. I am sure the situation is the same in Irkutsk Region. As concerns heating networks, and defrosting the networks, including school networks, this is most likely just bungling, unfortunately bungling on the part of the local leadership. It's difficult for me to imagine that, if the municipal chief went to the governor, to Boris Aleksandrovich Govorin, the governor of Irkutsk Region, and said, if you don't help, the networks will break down and the schools will come to a standstill, I doubt that Govorin would not have helped, he would certainly have helped. So this is most likely an omission on the part of those adults who should have ensured the normal operation of your school. I'm sure that the governor can hear us and will do everything necessary to restore the work of educational facilities as soon as possible, and if for some reason he is unable to do this, we will also be ready to get involved. I hope this won't lead to you being left [without heating] for a second year...

[Andreyeva] We now have on the line the westernmost part of Russia, Kaliningrad. There are many problems, many issues there...

Long borders, proximity to Afghanistan, hinder fight against drug abuse

[Unidentified woman] Hello, I'm a teacher in one of Kaliningrad's colleges, and I and my colleagues are worried by the question of drug addiction. Drugs are distributed even in schools but it's not a problem just for Kaliningrad but for the whole of the country and I should like to know how the government intends to combat the drugs trade.

[Putin] Sorry, what's your name?

[Woman] Luiza.

[Putin] Luiza, the problem, of course, is far more complicated than merely combating the drugs trade. Unfortunately, we've become a state without borders and not in the virtual but in the real sense of the word. At one time, Russia's southern borders had roughly the same situation that you now have on the border with Finland. Barbed wire, no-man's land, guard dogs, and so on. In the south, in the most dangerous area, we have absolutely nothing. Nothing at all.

Between Afghanistan and a number of former Soviet republics, the border is transparent, as they say nowadays, and in some areas it hardly exists at all whereas, further and further north, if you look at Kazakhstan and the steppes, we have thousands of kilometres of unprotected border without any installations whatsoever. So there's a direct influx of drugs from Afghanistan and, I'd like to draw your attention above all to the fact that these drugs are in transit across Russian territory to countries with a far more attractive market for drugs trafficking than ours. En route, however, because of the high profits to be made from drugs, a considerable amount do stay in Russia, primarily, incidentally, in the industrial centres and oil-extracting regions, in other words, where the population has the money to pay for them.

It is, therefore, an extremely complex task and one that requires great attention and great financial resources but not linked just to closing the borders, although this is a most important area of work. Incidentally, that's why it was so important for us to eliminate sources of drugs production, trafficking and banditry on the territory of Afghanistan. Because it was from there that drugs were flooding into Russia and, unfortunately, still are.

Apart from that, we also have to introduce organizational and legal measures. There is a special federal anti-drugs programme in place, and we must and will work in two areas. On the one hand we will strengthen the law-enforcement bodies that deal with this type of activity. Moreover, in my view, the time has come to think about setting up a special federal service to fight drugs. We need to provide the other law-enforcement agencies with the necessary equipment and personnel, and so on.

The second area is preventative and medical work: stopping people from becoming addicts and treating the existing ones...

[Brilev] We have the opportunity to go to an unusual place - the village of Kazache-Malevannyy...

Gas exports needed, domestic supply network expanding

[Unidentified woman] Hello, I am Tatyana Alekseyevna, an artist. Has the issue been raised at the federal level of providing gas supplies in small villages and farmsteads. A gas pipeline passes right by us but we don't have gas in our houses. So please look into this. The Territory authorities are dealing with the problem, but that is really not enough.

[Putin] The government cannot of course ignore the problem of the country's energy resources and providing gas supplies, and neither can I as head of state. I would like to say the following: People often point out that some of the gas we produce is exported, and they naturally ask why we are selling it when we need it ourselves - let's look after ourselves first. Right? You're probably asking that too, Tatyana?

[Woman] And not just me.

[Putin] [chuckles] Not just you. This is what is happening in this sector right now.

This is what we have in this sphere at present - so that you and everybody else had a clear idea about what is going on here. Today, in order to produce 1,000 cubic metres of gas, to produce and deliver to the consumer in Russia costs Gazprom about R420. I am speaking from memory, but I am almost certain I am correct, it is R420. But Gazprom sells on average, here I mean on average to population and to industry, at R410. It sells it to the population many times cheaper and to the industry nearly for twice as much as R420, but on average it works out at R410.

So it costs R420 but it is being sold for R410, therefore it is being sold at a loss. If any business, any joint-stock company, even the state as a whole works at a loss, the system will collapse. This work is aimed at self-elimination. We will simply lose the gas industry. Therefore, a certain amount of gas is being sold abroad. Please do note that inside the country it is being sold on average at R410 for 1,000 cubic metres, where as to Europe we supply it for 100-110 dollars for 1,000 cubic metres, and inside the country we sell twice as much gas as we sell abroad. If I am correct, 129bn [cubic metres of gas ] goes abroad and over 300bn is being sold inside the country.

And by selling abroad Gazprom covers its losses inside the country and makes modest funds for development. This is how the necessity of selling abroad could be explained.

But as far as the network for private consumers is concerned, this is being expanded all the time. Maybe not as quickly as we would like, but it is expanding.

I would like to draw your attention to the following circumstance. The rate at which the gas supply network is developing in Krasnodar Territory is twice as high as in other parts of the Russian Federation. Though, as we all know, Krasnodar Territory is hardly Siberia.

Still in Krasnodar Territory, this gas policy will continue. In general, my personal opinion is that we should maintain, for as long as possible, easy consumption norms and easy prices, first and foremost for individual customers. If, as far as industry is concerned, the prices should gradually even out, then for individual customers of what is still the largest gas country in the world, then for individual customers, all the more so when we take into account the population's low incomes, we should keep these low prices for as long as possible. And we will do so.

As far as your farm is directly concerned, I cannot say for certain, but I know that there are plans for the further development of the gas network in Krasnodar Territory. However, before the end of the broadcast, I will ask my aides, and they will bring me the information, or it will be brought up here on the computer display. I think that in about 5-10 minutes I will be able to tell you precisely when you will receive gas supplies.

[Brilev] So let's go over to another city, perhaps to the telephone centre in Ostankino, and we will return to the question of the farm a little later. Let's go over to Kirill Kleymenov. Are you hearing me, Kirill?

[Correspondent] Yes, a very important subject, which hasn't been covered in today's hot-line to the president, but which has cropped up very frequently in telephone calls, is that of street children. I would stress that this issue is cropping up in calls coming from different parts of the country. And it is being raised very pointedly in Moscow, Vladivostok and Kaliningrad. And now we have a call from Rostov-na-Donu...

Government told to help homeless children

[Female voice] [word indistinct] Valentina Petrovna, Rostov Region, the village of Yagarlykskaya. Vladimir Vladimirovich, I have a question for you. You know that there are millions of homeless children in our country. They do not go to school. What awaits them in the future? What measures are being taken on the state level to deal with the problem? Thank you.

[Putin] Valentina Petrovna, the problem is indeed very important and quite complicated. Indeed, there are a lot of homeless children. This is especially obvious in big cities, such as Moscow and major cities in southern Russia. This is where the problem is most obvious. I know about this. What is the root of the problem? After October 1917, after the civil war, there were many children without parents, but now, unfortunately, there are many homeless people whose parents are alive.

The second part of the problem is that there are many homeless children who come to our cities from other CIS countries, from the former republics of the Soviet Union, whose parents are also alive. Therefore, a solution to the problem cannot be the same as it was in the 1920s of the last century. A system of measures directed at strengthening the family and promoting healthy lifestyle must be implemented. And so on and so on. Although the problem of taking children out of the streets must be dealt with urgently. We have a subdivision of the Children of Russia programme which deals with the problem, but probably this is not enough. Therefore, recently I issued a separate instruction to the government to draw up a system of measures directed at resolving this complicated and urgent problem. [Deputy Prime Minister] Valentina Ivanovna Matviyenko will be personally in charge of this in the government.

[Brilev] Thank you. We must take advantage of a good telephone communication link with Ostankino right now because there had been breaks in reception. Let's give the floor to Kirill [Kleymenov].

[Correspondent] According to the latest information from sociologists, over 9,000 calls have been processed since the beginning of our programme, and the number of incoming calls is much higher. The equipment is now registering over 15 attempts per second to get through to us. It is not possible to establish more precisely how many attempts are taking place now. I must say that it is not only the equipment that is under colossal stress right now, but the telephone operators as well. These people here are taking in all the problems and the pain that the callers are trying to get across to the president. I can see that right now there is a phone call and I'll try to make one of the operator's life easier and I am asking her to give me a set of earphones with a microphone which she is using to speak to the caller at the other end.

Hello. Do you hear me? Could you introduce yourself please.

More money for disabled children

[Female voice] Hello. I am Sergeyeva Lyubov Mikhaylovna. I am calling from the town of Manturovo in Kostroma Region... I am a childminder at a boarding school. We are paid from the budget and the wages are never paid on time. I am a single parent with two children, and one of my children is disabled, has always been since birth. There is no doctor in our town who could treat his kind of disability, and we have to go to other towns' clinics, say, to Kostroma, Yaroslavl, Moscow. My child needs a lot of various medicines to treat his main disease and his complimentary ailments, too... When is the state going to take care of such families? It is impossible for the families like that to survive with the support from the state...

[Putin] Lyubov Mikhaylovna, I realize that the situation is rather difficult. Precisely for that reason we have done all we could to pay off this year the debts to those in the budgetary sphere and to avoid the accumulation of new debts. The federal budget has doubled its support for regional budgets for these purposes. It intends to carry on with this policy.

I am sure that you are not probably aware of this rather limited sphere of activity as budgetary relations, but the government has been sparing no effort to redistribute some of the profits of the so-called donor Regions towards what can be described as depressed Regions, to put it mildly, the Regions which are lacking resources to cover their wages at least.

The majority of those in the budgetary sphere should have experienced that already. I realize that some of the Regions in the country are probably experiencing delays with payments at the regional level. I can assure you that we will step up our efforts aimed at increasing the actual level of the revenue side in the budgetary sphere and we will do whatever it takes for the payments to be done on a regular basis.

As regards invalid children, their pensions are going to be increased to R900 from 1 January 2002. That applies to the invalid children of the Second Group and disabled children. If I am right, you are now being paid R600, but that will go up by another R300...

More power to regions

[Brilev] Thank you Ostankino. We remember our promise to link up with other Russian cities, but now let's go to the Internet, through which questions continue to arrive. Vladimir Vladimirovich, it is difficult for me, as a Muscovite, to put this question to you, a Petersburger. It could be difficult for you to say yes or no, although this is a short question. Are you planning to transfer the capital from Moscow to St Petersburg, Ilya Yevgenyevich Sorokin asks?

[Putin] No, of course there are no such plans. I don't think this is necessary for St Petersburg.

However, there is a problem of maintaining such a major city as St Petersburg. It is clear that it is difficult for the city to keep itself in the proper state. I think it would is unfair to blame the governor for everything. St Petersburg's palaces and parks belong to all Russian people, therefore the federation must help maintain this city and its museums. I don't think this has been done efficiently.

However, I am going to give a direct answer to your question about the transfer of the capital. In many countries, some central bodies of power are located not only in the capital. In Germany, for instance, the central bank is not in Berlin but in Frankfurt. It has never been in Bonn either. The court is in Karlsruhe, I think, and so on. In many other countries the situation is the same. In France, the central bodies of power are dispersed. First, this means slightly decentralizing the management and bringing the branches of power closer to the provinces. Second, because of the activities of the central bodies of power, businesses and property trading start booming, I mean the effect is very positive. I think that if we, without any revolutions, start introducing this practice in our country - and not only as regards St Petersburg, but also about other major cities, such as Nizhniy Novgorod and others - this would be justified.

Russians in Baltics compared to Albanians in Macedonia

[Brilev] Very well, we will have a live linkup with St Petersburg later. Now we have a question which has come from the CIS countries. The telephone lines only work for Russia, but questions are also coming in via the Internet from our compatriots, from the territory of the whole former Soviet Union. Sergey Anatolyevich Timofeyev, an official in Riga, and Andrey Anatolyevich (?Gulov), in Tashkent. Is Russia ready, not just in words but in deeds, to defend the rights and interests of Russians in the Baltic republics, Central Asia and other regions of the former Soviet Union?

[Putin] I don't know whether you have felt this or not, but it seemed to me that recently the government as a whole and the Foreign Ministry in particular had been taking a much more vigorous stance on protecting the interests of the Russian-speaking population, and still more those of citizens of the Russian Federation who live abroad, primarily in the CIS countries, of course. There are many specific examples here, I don't want to dwell on them. There are specific issues connected with finance. This primarily concerns maintaining at the proper level, and in the proper quantity, printed literature, newspapers, magazines, books, various publications and, most important, textbooks, the fight for the status of the Russian language. All of this, of course, is being done, but if you think it's not enough, I would like to assure you that we will step up our efforts in this area. There is no doubt about that.

[Andreyeva] Questions continue to come in via the Internet. If we have a chance, we will put them to Vladimir Putin again.

[Putin] By the way - excuse me, if we haven't yet finished with this question - a very interesting example has emerged in Europe, which we and you definitely have to make use of. I am speaking primarily to the person who put this question, and to those who are interested in the reply to this question. As you know, in Macedonia a decision has been taken - to be blunt, under pressure from the European Union and the OSCE - according to which the Albanian population, which I think makes up about 20 per cent in the south of Macedonia, has the right, in the same percentage terms, to be represented in the bodies of power and direction, including the security structures, in particular the police.

I think it is necessary to admit that - [changes tack] If we believe that this is fair, then we have every reason to apply this principle to Russians as well, including the Russians in the Baltic states.

As is known, about 40 per cent of Riga residents are speakers of Russian. It will be fair enough and they have the right to demand that this principle should be applied to them too.

[Presenter] By the way, [Kyrgyz President] Askar Akayev in Kyrgyzstan is signing such a decree today to make the Russian language official, so that it can enjoy state status.

[Putin] Yes, I know. I have already sent Askar Akayevich [Akayev] a letter of gratitude on this occasion. I think this is a very important step in the right direction...

[Presenter] Kazan, you have the chance to ask the head of state one more question.

No troops to Afghanistan

[Correspondent] Kazan is seen as a student city. There are a lot of universities and higher education institutions here. And so the next question comes from the students. Please introduce yourself.

[Caller] Hello, Vladimir Vladimirovich. I'm a student at the State Technological University and the Institute of Polymers, my name is Iskander Muflikhanov. We are worried about the issue of Afghanistan. Some of my friends are already serving in the army, and I have also reached conscription age. We are concerned about whether Russian lads will have to take part in combat action in Afghanistan. Thank you.

[Putin] No, Iskander. There's no need to worry on that count. As concerns Afghanistan, we have perfectly clear and comprehensible aims, and they consist in this. We want an end to factories on the territory of Afghanistan for the production of drugs which are sent to us, we want an end to bases in Afghanistan for training terrorists who are sent to us, we want Afghanistan to be a neutral, friendly state. That's it. We don't need anything else. That's where our entire policy is directed. We have supported the efforts of the international community in the fight against terrorism stemming from Afghanistan, we are currently rendering humanitarian aid to the Afghan people, and if you noticed in the media, our work is finding support among the Afghans and the popularity of our actions is growing all the time.

I would also like to note that the effectiveness of our actions in this area is also being registered by experts, both our experts and foreign ones. We shall continue in the same way. There is no question of any military contingents being sent to Afghanistan and nor will there be.

[Presenter] Kazan, you have an opportunity to ask one more question.

Support for Islam

[Correspondent] Tatarstan is a national republic, there are very many questions about how relations between the federal centre and national republics will be built in the future. Please, introduce yourself, this is your question.

[Uncaptioned man] Vladimir Vladimirovich, my name is Suleyman Zaripov, I am a teacher in one of the religious institutions. What is your attitude towards Moslems?

[Putin] Suleyman, I have to say that Russia is a unique place on the planet where Islam and Christianity have co-existed in harmony over centuries. There is no other such place in the world. There is nowhere else where Moslems and Christians not only co-existed but also lived together in harmony. And, or course, we must treasure this very much. This is the first thing.

The second thing I would like to point out is that the majority of Christians are Orthodox Christians, which is eastern Christianity and we have a great deal in common with Islam.

You know, when the Egyptian president was here on a state visit, we sat in the reception hall, the walls of which are covered with various scenes from the Bible. I told him that, excuse us, but, unfortunately, in our reception hall everything is from the Bible and started to explain to him what the painting signified. He told me that I didn't need to explain this to him because it is all in the Koran and he himself started to comment on the paintings on the walls of the Kremlin.

All in all, I would like to tell you that Islam is a world religion, it's a traditional Russian religion, and it merits the support of the state. This is the direction in which we will continue to work.

We are sure that if we continue to pay attention to your activities, to teaching, we will without doubt be working toward unifying our statehood, our peoples. I wish you success.

[Andreyeva] Thanks Kazan. Now back to Moscow.

Farming on the up

[Brilev] We have just made another record: 18 people a second are trying to ring the hotline to the president. Also, 65 per cent of callers are women, 35 per cent are men. Now we have a call from Saratov Region, and I think it is a question about farming.

[Caller] Hello Vladimir Vladimirovich. I am a pensioner, my name is Yevgeniy Frolovich (?Pitanov)...

[Caller] Russia is historically an agricultural country. Is it planned to develop our farming sector so that it becomes a world exporter again?...

[Putin] I have to say that, as I have said, farmers were very successful this year... I have to note that these results haven't been achieved just because of good weather although this is also very important for agriculture. Government policy was also more sensible this year. This was reflected in several administrative decisions, in timely supplies of fuel and lubricants to the countryside for the sowing period and the harvest and, something that's very important, in easy access to credit resources. I don't know whether you're aware of this or not but I can tell you that this year a regulation was introduced whereby when successful agricultural concerns repaid their bank loans, they received state assistance in the form of part of their credit payment, which was assumed by the state. This was a direct subsidy to agricultural concerns. All this together has led to such a positive outcome.

This year, for the first time in many years, we've achieved an export potential of approximately 5m tonnes. If we go on working like this, I'm sure Russia will be able to take its rightful place as a food exporter too. If, and I say it again, if we carry on and, one more thing, if we continue the trend seen this year of expanding arable land. There was a perceptible increase this year.

All in all, I'd also like to calm countryside residents as regards our plans for joining the WTO. It should not interfere with our plans to develop agriculture, but, on the contrary, hopefully, this will help us to break through to food markets. Thank you.

[Presenter] Thank you, Saratov Region. We are continuing our programme. Yekaterina, what town do we have next?

[Assistant] Our next town is our northern capital, St Petersburg. Sergey Pashkov is manning the studio there today...

[Correspondent] Hello, Yekaterina, hello, Vladimir Vladimirovich. We are in St Petersburg in Isakiyevskaya Square. Several hundred people have gathered here and they are waiting for this moment to talk to the president. Of course, Vladimir Vladimirovich, they are very thrilled about today's programme, and everyone has questions. But let's listen to the young ones first, and let our students ask the first question...

Relations with USA on right track post ABM

[Student] In recent months, we have noticed a rapprochement between two great states, Russia and the USA. We are helping each other in the fight against international terrorism. In your view, what does the future hold for our relations with Washington? Will the USA's unilateral abrogation of the ABM Treaty affect them?

[Putin] You've asked an important question. Of course, the USA is one of the leading world powers and our first trade and economic partner. The volume of our mutual trade is very important and significant to us. This is our number one partner. Germany comes second, and then Ukraine. [Corrects himself] I am sorry, Germany comes first, then Ukraine and then the USA. But on the whole, the potential for mutual trade and cooperation is simply enormous, simply enormous. This is why it is very important to us.

I would like to assure you that on the part of Russia nothing will be done to spoil our relations. At the same time I would like to draw your attention to the following: Naturally we are going to protect our national interests. Generally speaking I would like to say that the leadership of the USA is showing a similar kind of intention. We don't welcome the abandoning of the 1972 ABM Treaty. We think this is wrong and that was announced in my official statement.

At the same time I would like to say the following: I think that this decision - the leadership of the USA could think differently - I am expressing my own view here but this decision can be explained not only by its relations with Russia. I think it shows to a degree a new positioning of the USA in the world. It is some kind of a new stage. It shows that the USA is changing the quality of its foreign policy by abandoning the agreements enshrined in the international treaties and accords.

On the whole, the fact that the USA has torn up the treaty cannot affect our relations because it does not directly threaten our national security. The quality of future relations depends not only on Russia, but on the Americans too. Everything that has been done recently instils confidence in us that relations between our countries will develop in a positive way...

Legal reform must change official culture too

[Question] My name is Irina Lvovna Merikhova, I am a school museum director... My question is of a slightly different nature, I want to ask about the courts. Legal reform is under way, but firstly, I wonder when it will reach us ordinary people, and I have my doubts. Legal proceedings are getting more and more complicated. I have in mind, of course, only civil cases. You can't get by without lawyers. This is the point. Maybe improvements to the legal reform should move in the direction of simplifying it somehow, legal proceedings, that is, so that there's no need to turn to lawyers, because this isn't at all accessible to everyone, to ordinary people.

[Putin] Irina, I think we have to move in two directions here. First, we have to give citizens the possibility, those who can and want to do this, of using the services of a lawyer from the outset, as soon as they come up against problems, or the state. If a lawyer can currently be demanded, I think, from the moment of arrest, as of 1 July next year, I repeat, a lawyer can be demanded immediately from the moment of detention. No-one can subject you to interrogation, from 1 July next year, even when detained. You have the right to demand a lawyer. That's the first point.

The second thing that needs to be pointed out, it seems to me, is that we have to pass more and more laws of direct force. This is, by the way, one of the main areas of fighting corruption in general. If we have at our disposal laws of direct force, then we don't have any need to turn either to officials or lawyers, it's clear what a citizen can demand from the state. But we must, finally, improve not only legal proceedings but the legal culture as a whole. I think there are no easy solutions here, any more than in any other complex issues, but if we act consistently in all the areas I have mentioned we can count on success.

[Andreyeva] Our thanks to the people of St Petersburg for their questions, and now we have a new live link-up.

[Brilev] Where does one go from St Petersburg? Well, to the capital city, Moscow, and to Pushkin Square...

Education and prospects will cut drunkenness

[Woman] Vladimir Vladimirovich, good day. My name is Zinaida Pavlovna Romashevskaya, and I am a pensioner. I would like to ask the following question: how should we fight drunkenness, and what do you think about the future, given that in Gorbachev's time, he started doing something, but in the end, it all just got worse?

[Putin] Zinaida Pavlovna, you've asked a question which is eternal for Russia. But, it's not only important for our country. It is an illusion that we are the biggest drunkards. The Scandinavians drink more pure alcohol than anyone else in Europe. Based on pure alcohol consumption per head of population, I think we even rank behind France. But I don't think that this should please us. The level and degree of the population's "alcoholization" is excessive. And I understand your concern.

In order to resolve this problem, we need to follow a number of paths, as is often the case in such instances. The path of prohibition is the worst. This is the path which was followed in Mikhail Sergeyevich Gorbachev's time. I don't know who thought this all up, but it is clear that what resulted was the reverse of what was expected. And we must take into account and bear in mind that negative experience. In general, there can't be any populist solutions of that type in this case. In order to distract someone from the glass, the people's material welfare needs to be improved. Interests need to be formed, a person needs to have opportunities to pursue those interests. And spiritual needs coincided with material opportunities.

Of course, we need a system of educational measures. It is necessary for people to have somewhere to go, something to do. In general, it is necessary for people to have prospects in their life, to see such prospects. And then they will strive to achieve their aspirations, regardless, and will get away from the bottle.

All this together, and only all this together, will give positive results.

[Brilev] One more question. Moscow...

Police do important job, but rules, higher wages needed to beat corruption

[Unidentified man] Hello, Vladimir Vladimirovich. My name is Anatoliy Lyubimov, and I am a private businessman, engaged in the repairing and technical servicing of cars... What is your attitude to the GAI [traffic police], and the problems connected with this body?

[Putin] There is no such organization as GAI. There is an organization called GIBDD [the new name for the traffic police]. It is difficult to say, and I don't exactly know why it was renamed. Still, no-one there can explain this to me.

However, it is an important body. Important and necessary for the country, for the state. Important to guarantee safety on the roads, and important for taking care of those on the roads, protect pedestrians from injury, to protect life. And also important, in general for the economy of the country, because it controls the speed of haulage, and everything connected with this.

And haulage is intimately and substantially related to the price of almost all types of goods. However, your question has a subtext, as far as I understand.

What you are getting at is that the activity of the former GAI has left a great many of our citizens dissatisfied. Unfortunately, even today citizens run up against bribery and extortion. That is how I understand you.

[Anatoliy Lyubimov] Yes.

[Putin] Yes. In general, one has to admit that, unfortunately, this is true. This happens in almost all countries, the scale is just bigger in Russia - too big. What do we have to do to eliminate this negative phenomenon within our law-enforcement agencies? First, of course, we have to improve their material welfare. Second, we have to create conditions that exclude bribery. We have to supply equipment. We have to forbid the excessive stopping of vehicles with or without a reason. We have to introduce new administrative rules and make the police abide by them and not abuse their position.

What do I mean? An administrative code was passed not long ago and it comes into force 1 July next year. Under the code, it will be absolutely forbidden to accept fines in cash for road-traffic offences. Currently, traffic inspectors can accept up to R100 on the spot, I think, but the new code forbids them to take any money at all on the spot.

Second, and I think this is very important for anyone who drives, it will be forbidden to confiscate drivers' licences. Today many are prepared to open their wallets and pay a small bribe under threat of having their licence confiscated. Under the new code, this is forbidden.

There is another factor: the general state of society. When a driver is stopped by a traffic policeman, and the first thing he does is reach for his wallet, take some dollars out and says that he will be come back the other way in half an hour, drive at the same speed, don't stop him, that creates the situation you would expect. The task you set, in essence you set a task, should be resolved by everybody together.

[Presenter] Thank you Moscow. We will continue the programme. Katya, what have we got next?

[Second Presenter] Next we have the telephone centre. Kirill, during this live transmission this is going to be the last linkup with the telephone centre. Could you draw some kind conclusions?

[Correspondent] Yes, indeed. Just a few minutes ago a new absolute record has been set, namely 20 attempts per second to phone through have been registered by the equipment set up here in the telephone centre here in the Ostankino TV centre, but altogether since the beginning of this broadcast 12,000 phone calls have been processed, and, I repeat, there were many more attempts to get through.

And now one more very important subject has emerged, which is frequently in the questions to the Russian president, but which has not yet been voiced during this programme. This is the fight with the spread of narcotics, whereas judging from the calls, the situation in many regions is simply catastrophic. We have a call from the Nizhniy Novgorod Region.

Good day, please introduce yourself.

Moral education needed in schools

[Caller] Good day, I am Yuzhkova, Irina Aleksandrovna, a teacher from the Bezvodnyy village in the Nizhniy Novgorod Region, Kstov district.

Good day, Vladimir Vladimirovich.

[Putin] Good day, Irina Aleksandrovna.

[Yuzhkova] I would very much like to ask you to pay attention to youngsters. At present we are all too busy to pay attention to them. But they are our future. And it is horrifying to think what it will be like. The thing is that narcotics abuse is already in the village. Maybe it is time to think about spirituality. We very much ask you to introduce into school syllabus the subject of basics of spiritual values, and maybe even a religious subject on a voluntary basis or something in some way. Thank you very much.

[Putin] Irina Aleksandrovna, there already was such a question, I don't know whether we had the opportunity to listen to my answer to it. I mean the issue of narcotics abuse.

The problem of drug addiction is complicated and serious, and it is connected with a whole number of circumstances, including the absence of well-protected southern borders. In fact, the main flow of drugs comes from the south.

This problem has a number of other components, of course. But there is no doubt that it is an important one. What is particularly sad about it, the problem primarily affects the young people, teenagers, and it is connected with another problem - that of the AIDS epidemic. We must not forget about this either.

The problem of moral education is not of the least importance here, too. As far as religion classes are concerned, or other subjects closely related to [spiritual and moral] upbringing, the church is separated from the government in our country. Therefore, it is perhaps quite possible to think about offering some additional extracurricular activities in this respect, and, as it seems to me, this primarily depends on parents' wishes.

But of course, we must pay more attention to moral education at school. We must think about it. I will regard this not just as a question, but, as in the previous case, as highlighting a problem and setting out a task. We all must work on this.

[Presenter] Indeed, within the framework of this programme this is our last linkup with the telephone operators at the Ostankino TV centre. So, maybe we'll have another question...

More phone-ins to be held

[Caller] Hello. My name is Andrey Borisovich. Personally, I like everything the president has been doing for Russia. At last this country has got a worthy president. I understand that the president has inherited a heavy burden of our past historical development. This burden brings about a lot of questions.

We can see today that over half a million questions were asked today. I have a very simple question. How can you address all these questions and will there be other programmes with such a presidential phone-in line in the future?

[Putin] Andrey Borisovich, I must tell you that while getting ready for today, there were people in my office who tried to talk me out of this idea. I will be open with you. They did not like the idea of having a meeting in this format. There hasn't been a dialogue between the first person of the state and the population in this context before and it's true that we might have imagined there'd be far more problems than solutions today and people can say the most unexpected things. I believe however - and I am aware of the need for dialogue - I believe this way of communicating is acceptable and that the first person of the state is simply obliged to mix with his citizens, to listen to them and hear what they say. There should be feedback.

You know I'm often in the regions and I can see citizens do need this. I have to say it's no less important for me than it is for those asking the questions in order to get a feel for what's going on and what bothers people. I have to tell you too that analysis of the information that comes in shows that priorities change. While certain things were priorities yesterday and the day before, they're already changing today.

I certainly won't be able to answer every question. There's been half a million and more. When we announced this meeting was going to happen, there were more than 300,000 phone calls in 24 hours. So it's hard to answer all of them. I would, however, like to thank everyone who's taken part because it creates a good sociological basis that will, no doubt, be 100-per-cent processed and taken into account in our practical activities.

As for this way of communicating, I'll try and see that this isn't a one-off event...

[Andreyeva] As we promised, we are also carrying out our promise. We are now linked up to Kaliningrad. In Kaliningrad is Oleg Grozetskiy. Oleg, please, here's a chance to ask Vladimir Vladimirovich a question.

[Correspondent] The inhabitants of Russia's Baltic area still have a lot of questions to ask the president, so I urge the people of Kaliningrad to be as brief as possible. Please, introduce yourself, and let's have your question for the president.

Working with Europe on Kaliningrad issue

[Caller] Good day, Vladimir Vladimirovich. My name is Pavel Zilinskiy, and I am a student in the boat engineering faculty at the Baltic State Academy. My question is about our Kaliningrad Region. We often hear rumours that the region might be given away to settle debts, since the largest loans we have were taken out by our previous administration from German banks. It is believed that these rumours do have some basis in fact, the rumours that we could be given away.

[Putin] You know, I really didn't expect that question. To all those people who would like events to unfold in this way, I would really like to make a gesture to them on camera with my three fingers, but my upbringing prevents me from doing so.

This is absolutely impossible. There isn't even anything to say, nothing to say. This question isn't on the agenda, this issue doesn't even come to mind. This is the first time that I've heard anything about it.

But Kaliningrad Region does have its problems. Those problems exist, and they may get worse as a result of the forthcoming accession of Lithuania and Poland to the European Union. Then Kaliningrad will completely become an enclave, which will be surrounded by EU states.

I must tell you that we are maintaining a very active dialogue with Lithuania and Poland. We just hosted the Polish prime minister. He was actually in complete agreement with me, as is President Aleksander Kwasniewski, with whom I am developing a very good personal relationship, that this will primarily concern our states, but also the EU as a whole. Together with the European Union and our neighbours we are pushing for resolving this problem, the problem of people's free movement, by 2004, so that Russian people in Kaliningrad could move freely. A working group will be set up on a bilateral basis and on a multilateral basis with the EU. We will tackle this problem and I hope, we'll resolve it.

Besides, there are other important problems in Kaliningrad. Namely, they are, above all, the state of economy and the living standards of the population. This is a separate big issue, and I do not want to go into all its details now. But I can assure you, this problem is not left without our attention.

[Presenter] Another promise we made - we have been back to Kaliningraders. Let's go back to the people in the Cossack settlement of Malevannoye...

Private land sales nothing to fear

[Caller] I am the governor of a beet-root gathering team. We are extremely interested in one question. Why is Kuban's arable land being put on sale? We work on this land, but we will not be able to afford to buy it. We do not want oligarchs and lads with big bags of money to buy out our lands, or some foreigners who come to our country. Thank you.

[Putin] Of course, the question of land ownership in Russia has always been very acute and it still is. Just as yourself, I do not want this problem to be resolved in a way which does not meet Russian people's interests - the people in general, and the people living in Kuban, in particular.

[Putin] This is what I would like to say, and what I would like to recall, to recall what people no longer recall.

Well, first of all, I must tell you that it is unlikely that someone will come, gather our land up in a bag, and take it away. I find it difficult to imagine this. Also, you know, even with the liberalization of the economy, and I'm talking about industry here, not agriculture, we are still unable to reach an acceptable and necessary level of foreign investment in the Russian economy. Our accumulated investments, direct private investments from abroad, amount to no more than 30bn [dollars]. That's peanuts. For the Russian economy, that's almost nothing.

At the moment, on Sakhalin alone, the US company Shell-Mobil is planning to invest up to 30bn dollars - between 12bn and 15bn dollars in direct investment, and 30bn dollars in total. And all we've accumulated over 10 years is 30bn dollars. Can you imagine? Can you imagine that everyone will suddenly rush to buy up our land, to invest in this land? And if they invest, well, thank God, at least we'll get taxes from them.

But even that isn't really the point, that isn't really the point. The point is that, in the mid-1990s, a whole series of presidential decrees was signed by Russia's first president, which, in effect, legalized the privatization of land as a whole, including agricultural land.

Did you know, or if you didn't know, I'll tell you, that 63 per cent of Russia's agricultural land is already privatized? But it has been privatized in a completely thieving way, because the decrees I was talking about came out, the doors were open for privatization, but no-one had worked out the required procedure for privatizing land. No procedure had been worked out in legislation.

Now the Land Code which was recently approved primarily covers industrial land, land used for industrial facilities. And that only accounts for 2 per cent of Russia's total land.

But, I would like to tell you, and I think you are unlikely to know this, this same code brought in a prohibition on the privatization of agricultural land. A prohibition was introduced on the privatization of land used for agricultural purposes, until such time as the mechanism for privatization is enshrined in law.

Do we need this mechanism, or not? This is a separate issue, which we can and should address only through dialogue with the people, and first and foremost, with those people living in the country.

This process of privatization itself should not give rise to any fears. There are other problems, which I will speak about now.

You know, absolutely private ownership of land doesn't exist anywhere. Just take any of the countries of Western Europe. There you will find that private ownership of land is encumbered with a significant number of conditions. For example, you cannot change the purpose to which the land is put for a period of several years, three, four five, we could say 10 years. That's the first thing. Second, the state always has the right of first refusal. That means that if the owner wants to sell on the land, the state has the first option on the purchase. That's the second thing. Third, there are other restrictions on the use to which the land can be put. Even agricultural land. Let's take, for example, forest land. I think, if I am not mistaken, in Germany there is a law under which even a private owner of a forest does not have the right to fell a single tree without the permission of the relevant state authorities.

We have another problem. These same state authorities in our country are in a poor condition, and the state has become weak, and is not in a position to put into effect those decisions, which are formally enshrined in law. That is the reason. By the way, I have always spoken of the need to strengthen the state chain of command and the state itself and so on. So when we strengthen the state on the one hand, and, on the other, we find with your cooperation a strategy that is acceptable to the people working in the country, regarding a solution to the question of the fate of agricultural land, only then will we approach the solution to this problem.

[Presenter] We also have information for residents of your settlement [the Cossack settlement of Kazachiy Malevannyy]. Assistants fetched these reports to Mr President during the linkup.

[Putin] These are reports about gas supplies. I am sorry I forgot the name of the person [on the screen] to left of me - she is from the settlement and she asked me a question. Yes, it's you.

[Caller] My name is Tatyana Alekseyevna.

[Putin] Tatyana Alekseyevna, I've just got this report from Gazprom. For your information: the level of gas supplies in Russia with natural and liquefied gas stands at 76.4 per cent. In Krasnodar region this figure is 83.2 per cent. This is higher than on average in the country. I was not mistaken.

During the entire period of bringing gas supplies to Krasnodar Territory a total of 188 gas pipelines and bypasses was built and commissioned, with a total length of 1,271 km.

Another six bypasses of gas pipelines are being built at present. Gas supplies will be installed in the Cossack settlement Kazachiy-Malevannyy will be completed in January 2002.

[Caller] Thank you.

[Presenter] Vladimir Vladimirovich. I saw you selecting some questions while we were preparing this programme. What have you got?

[Putin] Yes, these are some questions that were asked by telephone. They seemed interesting to me, and I was waiting for them to be asked via Internet or live. But they have not been asked. This is why, I'd like to thank you for sparing me some time and I can read them out.

[Presenter, laughing] Yes, of course, Mr President.

Russia needs "passionate" young specialists

[Putin] The first one. In the president's opinion, what young specialists will be needed by our country within the next ten years?

I do not want to talk about specific occupations or specialities. We'll need all kinds of mothers and fathers [a reference to a popular children's rhyme about children who get together and discuss whose parents' jobs are more important], they are all important and needed.

I would like to say, though, that we will need knowledgeable people, this is without exaggerations and allowances, we will need specialists, people who are passionate about their work, people who give their best to their work. I would advise Kseniya Nikitina, a student of the 11th form who put this question, to engage in precisely this kind of activity...

[Putin reads a question] Please boost pensions for those over 80 years old who are living on the minimum pensions... As far as pensions are concerned, pensions for people who reached the age of 80 and for disabled people who belong to category one will be increased to R1,100 from 1 January 2002, regardless of their length of service or any other factors...

Mortgage help for young families

[Putin, reads a question] Will a state programme of help to young families be drawn up? In particular, will interest-free mortgages be issued to such families in a bid to stimulate the birth rate?

I instructed Gosstroy [state building company] and some other agencies to work out a programme. The government should pay the required funds into the budget by the year 2003, and these funds will be earmarked to issue loans to young families. Incidentally, it is planned that a certain part of the loan will be written off after the birth of the first child, and another part will be written off after the birth of the second child. This is how, I think, the birth rate can be stimulated in this country. I hope that the country's regions will also join the programme and start implementing it vigorously.

Federal funds to farmers blocked at local level

Well, here are some questions concerning farming. They are trying to restore collective farms - [changes tack] By the way, there was a question from a farmer, and I probably failed to answer that question in full. I will take the opportunity and answer the question which I have here on paper. [Putin reads the question] They are trying to restore collective farms, but private farmers work more efficiently. What is the president's attitude towards farming? It should become either the main or secondary form of business.

The question has been sent in by Mikhail Ivanovich Bubentsov, a farmer from Ryazan Region.

Well, 280,000 farms have been set up in our country. Only 25,000 major farms were set up. This is, only one in ten. There 260,000 farmers. I must say that the farmers produce 3 per cent of all agricultural goods.

At the same time the government decided that 8 per cent from leasing and credits should be allocated to the farmers. I'd like to draw your attention to this: they produce 3 per cent of the produce, but they are to get 8 per cent from the leasing and credit funds.

I am sure I know what those farmers who are listening to me may say. They may say that they find it difficult to get hold of those resources.

I would like to tell you that in real life this is possible. This is a problem that arises on the local level. This does not correspond to the state's policy. The state's and the government's policy says that the farmers should receive 8 per cent of the abovementioned money.

Help for a little girl

There is another question here. Maybe, this is a mistake to read it out here, and even more so, to try to resolve it somehow. I anticipate that ladies and gentlemen, colleagues here - Yekaterina and Sergey - will criticize me and this criticism will be justified perhaps

[Presenter, laughing] I am intrigued now.

[Putin] But I cannot help reading it out, even more so that or meeting is on the eve of the New Year. A boy called us, his name is Vanya, this is what he is writing. "Dear President. I am 7 years old. We are faced with difficulties. Our house has burnt down, and we have nowhere to live. I live with my grandmother and we have to rent a flat. I seldom see my mother, she has to work very hard. I miss her very much."

I do not have the right, or a legal basis to tackle this problem immediately. But I am sure that we have a lot of kind people, and we have a lot of charities and funds. I have grounds to believe, Vanya, that you and your family will be helped. Happy New Year! Thank you.

[Andreyeva] No, we won't criticize you for that. Vladimir Vladimirovich, using my official position, I want to ask you a question which didn't feature in the live transmissions or on the telephone. Even so, while we were preparing our programme, this question was asked fairly often on the Internet, and there were telephone calls, and people were interested. I want to articulate this question.

Putin's family Christmas

Everyone knows you have two daughters. People were asking - when will they finish school, and where will they be enrolling? That's one part of the question. And the second part, which everyone is interested in, given that this interview is taking place just before the New Year, is whether your family has any particular traditions for seeing in the New Year, and what will your wife be putting on the table?

[Putin] They've got another couple of years left to go at school. So, there are different plans, certain interests - I'm talking about my daughters now. We have certain preliminary plans, as they say in such cases, as far as possible choices of a higher education institution are concerned. But they haven't reached a final decision on that issue yet. I think it's too early to talk about this.

As far as traditions are concerned, they're the same as you would find in any Russian family. As a rule, we see in the New Year at home, and it will be that way this time. What we'll have on the table, well, it's probably best to ask my wife. I don't know, but there will probably be something festive, I would have thought. A glass of champagne, that's for sure.

[Andreyeva] She won't leave you hungry.

[Putin] She definitely won't leave me hungry, and we'll definitely raise a glass of champagne.

[Brilev] In that case, I've got another question in the run-up to the New Year. The year is symmetrical - 20-02 - 2002. That's believed to be a lucky figure. Will it be happy for the country?

[Putin] If I can answer in general terms, I think that our task will be to preserve all the positives which we achieved this year, to strengthen these positive trends, primarily in the economy, and to activate what we were counting on in the medium-term, as I was saying before. We now have to make sure that the laws adopted this year are working and bringing results. As one of my friends once said, Russia had more than its share of revolutions in the last century. I hope we shall have no more revolutions in the 21 century and the country will now be moving ahead in a positive way - confidently, step by step. Provided we manage to achieve if only modest, but tangible results in improving the living conditions of our people, I will consider our next year's tasks fulfilled.

[Andreyeva] Vladimir Vladimirovich, we should like to thank you for taking part in our programme, produced in such unusual format. We also thank you for doing this in spite of the pressure from some who advised you not to do this. Well, our programme is almost over.

[Presenter Sergey Brilev] I just want to thank you on behalf of all those people who put their questions to the president. Thanks to everyone who telephoned their questions today or sent them over the Internet. Thank you all for taking interest in this joint project by the Russian TV and the Russian Public TV channels.

[Putin] Thank you.

[Andreyeva] Happy New Year to everyone.

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