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Under 30 Per Cent Of Muscovites Favour Putin's Comeback As President - Poll
Interfax - 12.19.11 - JRL 2011-228

Moscow, 19 December: Most Muscovites plan to participate in the March presidential election and over a fourth of the capital's residents are ready to vote for Vladimir Putin, Levada Centre sociologists have told Interfax. A total of 58 per cent of Muscovites plan to take part in the 4 March 2012 presidential election, 15 per cent will not come to polling stations, while 23 per cent are undecided, an opinion poll which was conducted by Levada Centre on 8-16 December among 1,000 adult Moscow residents (with a statistical margin of error of 4.3 per cent) has shown.

At the same time it turned out that currently 28 per cent of the city's residents are ready to vote for Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, who was nominated as One Russia (United Russia) party's presidential candidate.

Of the other potential contenders for the highest post, CPRF (Communist Party of the Russian Federation) leader Gennadiy Zyuganov can now count on the support of 8 per cent of Muscovites; LDPR (Liberal Democratic Party of Russia) and Yabloko leaders Vladimir Zhirinovskiy and Grigoriy Yavlinskiy, 5 per cent each.

The options of a well-known deputy from the A Just Russia party or a "non-systemic opposition" leader (Nemtsov, Ryzhkov, Kasyanov, Kasparov and others) got the support of 7 per cent of respondents each.

At the same time, a large section of Moscow respondents believe that Gennadiy Zyuganov (22 per cent) or one of the representatives of the "non-systemic opposition" (18 per cent) can present real competition for Vladimir Putin in the presidential election.

Meanwhile, 32 per cent of the polled Moscow residents believe that "another well-known politician" must become the country's next president. Some 31 per cent of respondents would like to see Putin on this post, and 23 per cent would like "another, previously unknown, politician".

Keywords: Russia, Government, Politics - Russia News - Russia

[last part of transcript]

Television networks Rossiya 1, Rossiya 24, RTR-Planet and radio stations Mayak, Vesti FM, and Radio Rossii completed broadcasting the live Q&A session, A Conversation with Vladimir Putin: Continued

Vladimir Putin: Yes, I understand. You are irritated by some statements of our top officials from the Defence Ministry, including the Chief of the General Staff because they call into doubt the quality of our armaments. Incidentally, they are causing damage to our military-technical cooperation with other countries.

Needless to say, they are motivated by the considerations I have just mentioned ­ they want to receive modern equipment that will be better than its foreign counterparts and at affordable prices, which is also very important. It's important for all of us, including you as a Russian citizen, that the 20 trillion roubles that we allocated to reequip the army and the navy until 2020 are used effectively. We have to use these funds to objectively improve Russia's defence capability, not just disburse this money, you know ­ we spent that much money during this year, and that much during that year.

We need to see actual pieces of equipment for this money: missiles, aircraft, submarines, and ships. We need them to be high quality designs. The fact that they are making such public statements is certainly inadmissible, and we have already discussed this with them. I hope they got our message.

Ernest Mackevicius: One more question from Nizhny Tagil. Alexander, please go ahead.

Alexander Khristenko: Great, Ernest. We have time for one more question.

Please introduce yourself and ask your question.

Igor Kholmanskikh: Good afternoon, Mr Putin.

My name is Igor Kholmanskikh. I am head of the assembly shop. First, I wanted to ask you about the American missile defence system, but there's an issue that makes my heart bleed.

Mr Putin, you visited our plant in hard times and helped us. Thank you for doing this. Today, thousands of people at our plant have work, get paid for their work, and have a good outlook for the future. This stability is important to us. We don't want to return to the past.

I have a point to make about the protest demonstrations. If our 'militsia', or what it's called now ­ police, can't deal with this situation, we are ready to go out onto the streets and stand up for stability, of course, within the law.

Thank you.

Vladimir Putin: Please come, but not now, and preferably for other reasons. I believe both the protesters and the law enforcement agencies will remain within the constraints of the law, and we will address other issues, such as your company and the defence industry in general.

Some of the people in the audience who have just spoken expressed certain concerns. I can understand them, and I share them by the way. The Defence Ministry should improve its procurement system, because certain things are unfair ­ certain requirements from the defence industry are unfair, such as pricing. They refer to the equipment of the 80s and apply the same pricing to modern equipment. There are many things to discuss and to take care of in our day-to-day work. Thank you very much for your support.

Ernest Mackevicius: Thank you, Mr Putin.

Thank you, Nizhny Tagil.

We are returning to the Moscow studio with Ivan Kudryavtsev and his guests.

Ivan Kudryavtsev: I would like to pass the microphone to a filmmaker who is shooting a film about the war that was won to a greater extent by using people rather than modern equipment. I am referring to the Battle of Stalingrad, and the film Stalingrad. The film is directed by Fyodor Bondarchuk.

Importantly, no matter what historical period is covered in a film made by this director, he always focuses on his contemporaries and takes inspiration from life today.

Fyodor, please go ahead with your question.

Fyodor Bondarchuk: Mr Putin, I often go to St Petersburg for filming now. I know that you do quite a lot for your city. Maestro Gergiev also mentioned this today. Nevertheless, most St Petersburg voters cast their votes for the opposition. What do you think about this as someone who was born in this city? This is your home town.

Vladimir Putin: That's fine. St Petersburg is unlike other Russian cities in this regard. People have different preferences. I am a resident of St Petersburg as well. I can sense people's attitude. To a great extent, it is determined by things that they encounter in their everyday lives.

The St Petersburg parliament has always been very diverse politically, but this didn't interfere with its work. No matter what party they belong to, St Petersburg deputies have always been very responsible.

As for our relations with other parties in Russia, we have always strived to maintain a good rapport. I am confident that this will not affect St Petersburg in any way.

Ernest Mackevicius: Another question from the studio by Tatyana Remezova.

Tatyana Remezova: I have an American political scientist, Nikolai Zlobin, in my international sector. He is director of the Russian and Asian programmes at the World Security Institute in Washington, DC. At the same time, he is a prominent participant at the Valdai discussion club. Mr Zlobin, go ahead and please try to make your question short.

Vladimir Putin: An American political scientist by the name of Zlobin. A man who snuck into America and defends Russia's interests there, I hope.

Nikolai Zlobin: Yes, of course.

But I will disappoint you today. My question will be about foreign policy, not domestic politics. You mentioned "the Putin regime", so I would like to ask you about the "Putin" foreign policy, which has drastically changed the global picture since it appeared, to tell you the truth. We can discuss whether this influence was positive or negative.

When you speak with Russian politicians, you can't avoid the impression that they think Russia is surrounded by enemies, those with evil intent, or countries that try to get something from Russia and then turn coat. Something doesn't work in terms of having allies. There are phrases like "the United States and its allies" or "NATO and its allies". I have never heard of "Russia and its allies". Mr Putin, when you left the Kremlin in 2008 with your famous Munich speech, Russia didn't have many allies, I think. Now you are running for the presidency again. Is permanent opposition to everyone in the world part of the Putin foreign policy? Is this something you need to secure for the survival of the regime or in order to expand the defence industry or something else? Do you have any plans to make allies during the next six-year presidential term if you are elected president? If a country has other countries that it can rely on, its sense of security is much higher. Do you see this coming?

Thank you.

Vladimir Putin: It's too early to thank me, because you haven't heard my answer yet. You are going to hear it, and I'm not sure if you will thank me.

You said that Russia doesn't have allies. I simply disagree with this. Russia has many allies. When I went to Guatemala to discuss Russia's bid to host the Olympic Games ­ I can tell you, absolutely honestly ­ the majority of IOC members approached me and said openly or whispered in my ear that they would vote for Russia only because Russia has an independent stance on the international arena. All of them are our potential allies; there are more of them than the ex-Soviet republics, because people are tired of a single country's dominant influence.

You mentioned cooperation with the United States. We would like to be allies with the United States. However, what I'm seeing now and what I was talking about in Munich can hardly be called an alliance. At times, I feel that America doesn't need allies; it needs vassals.

However, we want to and we will continue to build our relations with the United States, because I see that certain changes are taking place inside the United States as well. American society feels much less inclined to act as global policeman. Your colleagues, researchers from American universities, have been writing about this. They say that the United States is conducting an ineffective and costly foreign policy. I know too well what their so-called European allies think about this policy.

Look what happens in real life, Nikolai. I'm sure you know about it. They have made a unilateral decision about Afghanistan. Have they ever thought about asking the advice of their allies about what needs to be done there? Hell, no. They attacked the country first, and then began to pull in other countries, saying that those who weren't with them were against them. Is that what you call alliance? Not really. Those who aren't with us are against us ­ nicely put. The allies fell away immediately: everything was at six and sevens. Remember, what they say about a quartet of musicians in Krylov's fable? "And you, my friends, no matter what you wish, will never make it as musicians." Is that right, Mr Gergiev?

However, we will not live surrounded by just enemies. This will never happen. We have discussed this issue, and many of my colleagues have tried to impose the idea of a unipolar world on me. But this world failed to materialise. Today's world is much more complex than even the bipolar world, where the Soviet Union tried to impose its will on its quasi-allies; that world fell apart as soon as the Soviet Union lost its might.

However, if the United States continues this policy, it will lose its so-called allies, no matter what they says about this issue.

The same thing happened in Iraq. First, they did what they wanted to do and then forced their allies to deploy troops in Iraq. Is that what allies are for? Is that joint decision-making? Real alliances are built on shared discussions and shared decisions, developing a joint agenda on existing threats, and on ways to hold back these threats.

I can see Mr Primakov and Mr Ivanov sitting right in front of me. Both are very important, among the most important people on the international political arena. This goes without saying for Mr Primakov, and Mr Ivanov is also a prominent figure.

Everything I just said is true. But we will not build a policy in a way that everybody feels like we are surrounded by enemies. This is not the case now, and won't happen in the future.

Ernest Mackevicius: It's time for us to get back to our call centre. We have new phone calls and text messages. I give the floor to Maria Sittel.

Maria Sittel: Yes, we do. Thank you, Ernest.

A brief statistical overview, in just 20 seconds: as of 3:30 pm, we had 1.782 million calls and text messages coming in to our website. Leading by a wide margin are issues of social welfare. Second place, as expected, goes to utilities and housing issues. And third place to employment and salary-related issues.

We will now take a call from Bashkortostan.

Rafael Khabibullin: Good afternoon, Mr Putin.

My name is Rafael Khabibullin, I am 75 years old and retired.

At the United Russia conference you said that you would introduce a tax on luxury. When will this happen? I would like to live to see it.

Vladimir Putin: We all remember the parable when a man could wish anything and he wished that his neighbour lost an eye.

But generally speaking, this approach is correct. Oddly enough, there haven't yet been any questions about the individual income tax, which are often raised by our people and are favoured by opposition parties. We have had lengthy discussions on this issue. And we will keep individual income tax at 13%.

By the way, when we had differentiated rates of individual income tax, the sums collected were significantly lower than what we see now. Revenues from individual income tax last year, in 2010 (you know what the situation was), exceeded all federal government revenues in 2000.

On the contrary, when we differentiate the rate, some companies and people move away from legal wages; wages are paid in envelopes, violating employees' rights for future retirement pensions. Apart from everything else, this impacts the high wages that are earned honestly, including, by the way, in healthcare. After all, we have doctors, surgeons, unique surgeons, who earn 200,000-300,000 roubles a month or more.

Of course, we could cut their wages by hitting them with a 40% tax rate, but we already have a problem of highly qualified professionals in different sectors leaving. So we just won't have them. So this is not a simple issue, as you can see.

We need social justice, but we need to tread carefully. Otherwise, who will treat us? Who will provide the other services? Even though people in healthcare and other sectors don't like the word. But of course, the tax on hyper-consumption, the tax on luxury is quite justified, it can and should be introduced, I believe.

As to when this can be done, I didn't raise it because it sounds good; I was considering the problem in practical terms. To do so, we need a cadastre, first of all, regarding real estate and land. The corresponding services have to prepare this cadastre within the next year, and then in 2013 we will submit a draft law on the tax on hyper-consumption and luxury to the State Duma.

Ernest Mackevicius: Let's go back to our studio audience and give the floor to our foreign guests.

Dmitry Shchugorev, please.

Dmitry Shchugorev: All the more so since he has come here specially, from Paris. This is Marek Halter, a social commentator and public figure. His Russian is excellent, as everyone knows, because they watch the news and see him there all the time.

Your question, please.

Marek Halter: First. It would be easier for me to speak French, but, my dear man, I know you haven't yet had time to learn the language of Voltaire. I came prepared and wrote my question down to ensure I don't make mistakes, and I will also have to put my glasses on in order not to make any more.

As president of the French university colleges in Russia, which I founded together with Andrei Sakharov, there is one issue that concerns me. I understand that today's generation is very different from mine. Today, like never before, we are in a position to understand the words of Karl Marx: the world is one. The internet allows young people to communicate freely with people all over the world, to unite and organise protests.

Mr Putin, would you be ready, when you become president, to do what General de Gaulle did in his time ­ to address young people on TV with the words "I understand you"?

Vladimir Putin: Merci for your question. Thank you very much.

You know, in our day-to-day work, we often deal with loose ends, so to speak; we let the situation develop to a particular point and then we say that we have understood, that we will correct the mistakes and faults, make adjustments. This is, of course, also possible, and should be done if we are unable to deal with the problem before it escalates.

I would like us to be able to forecast developments in the country, in the economy, in the social sphere, in politics, in the development of our democratic institutions; to respond in a timely fashion to the challenges of the time and make the necessary adjustments. At the same time, a minority should always be treated with respect. It should not be pushed away to the peripheries of political life and then, perhaps, we wouldn't have to apologise.

Ernest Mackevicius: We have another question from representatives of the Western school of political thought.

Tatyana Remezova, please.

Tatyana Remezova: This guest has also come here specifically for this programme, but this time, from Germany. Alexander Rahr is the son and grandson of White émigrés. He could, of course, put his question in German, since you know the language, but we will ask him to speak Russian, so that everyone can understand.

Alexander Rahr, director of the Berthold Beitz Centre at the German Foreign Relations Council. Welcome.

Alexander Rahr: Mr Putin, while we are talking with you here, the Russian president is battling the European Commission, the European Union in Brussels.

Vladimir Putin: He will show his worth, I am sure.

Alexander Rahr: Let's hope he will, but I would say that the battles are difficult.

Vladimir Putin: He is doing well.

Alexander Rahr: And, unfortunately, there are a lot of conflicts. I am referring to the question Nikolai posed.

Antimissile defence isn't about Europe, of course, but the Europeans don't support Russia on this issue. There is struggle against Gazprom, which we discussed at a Valdai Club meeting. Everyone is pulling Ukraine in their respective directions.

We still haven't been able to resolve the visa issue. It just doesn't make sense that Latin Americans, Americans, and North Africans don't need visas to come to us, but we cannot go to Russia and Russians can't come to us without visas. You developed the first proposal in 2002.

My question is: why aren't we together? What mistakes have been made, perhaps, even by Russia, over the last 20 years? Perhaps in the 1990s, when we failed to build that Europe? I remember it, I sat in the trenches at radio Svoboda (Freedom), and they said that when Russia gave up Communism we would have a common Europe. No other rationale was possible then. So why aren't we together?

Vladimir Putin: We were taught that radio Svoboda was "a propaganda unit of America's CIA".

When I worked for that organisation, as you all know, that is what was written about it. Among other things, it was involved in Humint operations in the Soviet Union ­ acquiring information sources, hopefully, for good causes. But a great deal has changed since then.

Why aren't we together? First of all, there are purely technical reasons. One of our emperors used to say, when tutoring his son, "Everyone is afraid of our hugeness." This is true. And this is still the case. This is one point.

Second, the leading country of the Western world, the United States, is suspicious about our nuclear missile potential. I believe it is making a grave mistake, believing that first it should remove this nuclear potential and only then consider us a potential ally. This is still Cold war-style thinking. But this is critical, and it doesn't allow Europe to work with us as with a real potential ally.

You know, when the Soviet Union collapsed, I thought there was no longer anything preventing us from all being on the same side. But these suspicions from the past impede the development of our relations. But I still believe that it is inevitable. Life itself demands integration in Europe; I would even say there is demand for integration through our shared Christian values. And if you consider that the traditional world religions are all based on similar moral values, this provides the foundation for overcoming inter-civilisation difficulties.

I have said this repeatedly, and I would like to say it once again. I was greatly impressed by the stance taken by former German chancellor Helmut Kohl, who talked of the inevitability of closer relations, virtually integration, between Europe and Russia. He said that if we wanted to survive as one civilisation, we should move in this direction. Does Russia have to do anything? Yes, it should scare its neighbours less; it should work to rid itself of this imperial image which prevents even Europe from cooperating with us, especially as it has integrated a lot of young members who continue to bear, since we have already quoted Marx here, the "birthmarks" of the past. Overall, there are a lot of problems, but integration is possible, and it is needed.

By the way, I would like to object to what Nikita Mikhalkov said about Russia ­ that it can and should act as a bridge between East and West. Russia is not a bridge. It is an independent and self-sustaining force in this world, not just a link. But, of course, it has elements of a Eurasian nature. They are additional factors in our competitiveness, and we are of course going to use them. This is why we are raising the issue of establishing a Eurasian Union.

Ernest Mackevicius: One more question from our studio audience.

Tatyana, please.

Tatyana Remezova: I know that Igor Ivanov, former foreign minister, secretary of the Russian Security Council, has a question on international integration.

Mr Ivanov.

Igor Ivanov: Good afternoon, Mr Putin.

Out of about one million and seven hundred thousand questions that the studio received, I believe an overwhelming majority, 99%, concern domestic politics. This is understandable. Our people are concerned with social and economic issues. If you noticed, even during the broadcast from Vladivostok, they started with the APEC Leaders' Week, but immediately moved to the problems involving the bridge and governor, even though hosting the APEC meeting is a milestone event and may make a definite contribution to serious development of Siberia and the Far East.

I have two related questions. We live in a globalised world, and the 21st century is the century of globalisation, so external factors will play an increasing role in the life of any country. Today, you have repeatedly addressed the problem of modernisation as the main strategy for the country's development.

How do you see international cooperation in terms of implementing plans for Russia's modernisation?

And the other question. We have recently set up the Russian Council for International Affairs, which, in my opinion, comprises this country's leading experts on international relations. How do you see the future role of the expert community in developing and implementing the country's foreign policy?

We have heard questions from Nikolai Zlobin and Alexander Rahr, dealing with certain aspects of this, including that sometimes we are not well understood. If we are to be truly understood, official statements are not sufficient, we need the active participation of civil society and the expert community in providing explanations and in advocacy.

Thank you.

Vladimir Putin: This is a very important question. I will tell you why. It really follows on from what Nikolai Zlobin and Alexander Rahr said. But it is of practical importance.

I have already mentioned that our capital should be channelled into foreign economies to enhance the integration of Russia's economy into the European and global economies. This is extremely important. Yet what happens? You see, our partners invest a great deal more in the Russian economy than we invest in foreign countries, and partially this is because we are not actually allowed in.

Everyone talks about the need to liberalise the Russian economy, to open the doors. But we are already as open as we can be; soon all we'll be left with is a massive draught. Do you see? But we are not let into those crucial spheres there. We do let foreigners into crucial sectors here, such as power generation. Our European partners have already invested tens of billions of dollars in power generation. This is serious. In Siberia, in the Far East, and all over the country.

But we are not allowed into crucial sectors in the West. Recently, our companies tried to purchase telecommunications assets in one European country. They kept beating about the bush, even though it was obviously beneficial for our partners, too, and it came to naught, we were not allowed to buy into these assets. Or you might recall the well-known case involving the purchase of a car concern in Germany. The discussions ran and ran, I even met the trade unions, everyone was happy, everyone was willing, but when it came down to it, they didn't allow it.

Or there is another example, when a private businessman bought a high-tech company in Switzerland. They dragged him through the courts, making it impossible for him to work. Fortunately, these problems have been mostly resolved now.

So the activities of such organisations as yours, which build mutual trust, are, of course, both needed and extremely important. But we will also try to organise our practical work so as to improve trust and work together.

Ernest Mackevicius: A question that was sent to our website: "The majority of your critics are on the internet. What is your attitude to the internet and internet users?"

Vladimir Putin: I would like to say that this environment is highly democratic and I think it is impossible to restrict the internet. That would be technologically difficult and politically wrong.

If the authorities or someone in particular don't like what is happening on the internet there is only one way to confront it ­ to propose other ways and approaches to resolving the problems that are discussed on the internet, and to do so in a more creative and interesting way, so as to gather more supporters. This is one thing.

Second, it should be said that, unfortunately, the internet is used for criminal purposes. And law enforcement structures should watch carefully what it is being used for without limiting its freedom, they should know this and work accordingly. I am referring to paedophilia and other problems.

And, third, the culture and lack of culture on the internet is somewhat like what we see on our roads. You know, when a driver curses everyone around, while violating the rules. These are manifestations of our broader culture. And I hope very much that, as our broader culture improves, the situation on the internet will change for the better, too.

Ernest Mackevicius: Do you use the internet often?

Vladimir Putin: No.

Ernest Mackevicius: Consciously?

Vladimir Putin: Yes. I just don't have time for it. I don't even have time to watch TV. I only watch some recorded programmes on my way to work.

Ernest Mackevicius: You can now watch TV via the internet, by the way.

Mr Putin, it was internet users who sent in some of the questions that you have selected personally and that are now in this folder. What have you selected?

Vladimir Putin: You know, I believe we have been sitting here long enough already, but there are a lot of interesting questions. By the way, while I was answering, I saw the ticker, "When will we build a bridge ­ Mainland-Sakhalin?" That's a good project, interesting, and very important.

Where will you celebrate New Year's Eve? ­ At home, of course.

This is an important project. We need to conduct an economic feasibility study. If we do this, then it might expand traffic considerably along the Trans-Siberian Railway and the Baikal-Amur Mainline because we would be able to forward more cargo traffic from Japan. And we could send more direct traffic into Japan, including this tunnel traffic. We are discussing this issue with our Japanese partners. This large and impressive project could substantially expand our transit potential.

As far as the questions are concerned, there are some important aspects concerning the nationalisation of natural resources. The state continues to own natural resources, and private companies only have the right to extract these resources. In their time ­ I completely understand and share this approach ­ many present-day Russian oligarchs had amassed massive fortunes as a result of unfair and inequitable privatisation. This is absolutely true, this is a fact. They admit this themselves now.

But if we start confiscating this property, it could lead to even worse consequences than this unfair privatisation. It could disrupt the operations of these major corporations, deprive people of their wages, and jobs, etc. This is a very complicated process.

Consequently, we should approach this differently. In my opinion, we should not talk about nationalising specific assets. On the contrary, we should talk about restraining these people, forcing them to work within the law and to pay taxes. We should solve social problems, depending on those tax proceeds.

Rural roads are a very important issue. We are moving to establish road funds. I know motorists are not very happy because the transport tax has not been abolished. Their representatives are here, and I have seen some drivers in this auditorium. But this was done at the request of the governors who consider this to be an important component of their revenue. There are plans to raise the excise tax by one rouble, but this is because we have plans to shore up the road construction funds, now being established by us. Part of these funds will also be used to build rural roads. This is an extremely important objective, and we have made a decision. At the end of its session, the previous State Duma passed a law ordering the Russian regions to channel part of their road funds into the construction of rural roads.

"Ban pneumatic weapons nationwide." You know, this also worries me. I know there are some snags concerning this issue, but I share this attitude.

Tatiana Grachyova sent this one from a hospital in the Tver Region. She writes about problems. Ms Grachyova, I promise you that we will certainly look into the matter. These problems can possibly be solved under the healthcare modernisation programme.

The news ticker has just flashed a question: "When will the healthcare programme provide real protection?" I hope that we will improve the situation with regional healthcare with the healthcare modernisation programme, provided that we manage to allocate more funds for regional healthcare facilities.

Yes, previously, there was a statement that pensions will be increased to 8,125 roubles. I will also look into this. Tamara Manova writes about this. To the best of my knowledge, the average old-age pension now totals something like 8,200 roubles.

"Why are they saying here that pensions fall short of 8,125 roubles?" Maybe, this implies social/welfare pensions. I will also assess this issue. Indeed, those pensions are smaller.

Maternity capital should be used for family needs because wages and salaries are low, and it's impossible even to take out a mortgage. We need to look closely into the matter. This is an important question. I think we need to involve the Housing Construction Agency, so that people with low incomes can use maternity capital. The Agency for Housing Mortgage Lending should provide some guarantees so as to facilitate this opportunity and open up additional mortgage opportunities.

"What does the word 'Motherland' mean to you?" -- It means the same to me as it does to many Russians. It is everything, it is my life.

A ten-year-old boy named Grisha has asked a very good question: "How can every person be reconciled?" Our future is secure, as long as we have children who think like this.

"What are your negative personality traits?" -- There are enough of them, just like any other person.

Mikhail Zhukov from Ryazan asks this question: "What do you expect from Russians, and what should we expect from you?" You know, in reality, this is a serious question. I expect Russia's citizens to come together, to work for the development of our Motherland. And I personally will do everything I can to achieve this goal.

"What do you dream of?" -- I dream that these plans are realised.

Yes, here is a curious question: "Mr Putin, I have just read [probably on the Internet] that you might be promoted to Marshal. Doesn't this remind you of the fact that Leonid Brezhnev had received the title Hero of the Soviet Union six times?" --The current entourage, etc. compromises me.

First of all, no one is promoted to Marshal in this country.

Second, I remember well when Boris Yeltsin offered me the post of Federal Security Service Director, and I agreed. I went to him, and he invited me in and said: "I have decided to promote you to General." And it's common knowledge that I'm a Colonel. I told him: "Mr President, I resigned from military service in my time, and I consider it inappropriate to resume military service now. Although I have served with this organisation, please allow me to become the first civilian director of the Federal Security Service. I remember that he was really surprised, and he replied: "Yes? Well, OK."

So there is no possibility of this, and I assure you that there won't be.

Here is another online question: "What are your sources of information, and isn't the information you receive diluted?" -- No, I assure you. I get sufficiently objective information about the situation in this country and worldwide.

"What is your concept of happiness?" ­ This is a very individual thing. I think for me happiness comes down to love.

"What do you think of the slogan: "Stop feeding offshore zones?" ­ I'm absolutely positive. By the way, this is an important issue. It doesn't just matter that someone hides something in an offshore zone. The thing is that many Russian companies are registered in offshore zones and openly and legally operate in this country as foreign businesses.

Yes, awhile back, many companies withdrew their assets to use them from offshore zones in order to guarantee their interests. Today, this really hinders economic activity, the activity of Russian businesses and foreign investors. Many of them have told me openly that they were willing to cooperate with a company, and that they wanted this to happen, but that they didn't even know who the end beneficiary was, or who was hiding in an offshore zone. This issue needs to be brought in line with the law.

"Why is the situation so bad in Sarapul?" ­ I don't know, we need to look into the matter. As far as I know, this place is located not far from Izhevsk. We will examine the Sarapul issue separately.

"We love you." ­ Me, too. The feeling is mutual.

"Stanislav Govorukhin is right: Something must be done about TV programmes." ­ Yes, he is certainly right. Unfortunately, our philosophy is based on profits derived from commercials, and it's hard to take this back, but something has to be done.

"Do you have any leisure time?" ­ Yes, I do.

"What would you think about holding federal elections in May, a warmer, sunnier, more positive month?" ­ Generally, I like this idea, but I'm afraid that dacha gardeners might criticise this because they need to till their vegetable patches, and we are forcing them to do something stupid.

Ernest Mackevicius: In that case, we need to put the elections off till June.

Vladimir Putin: Actually, this is a serious question. Indeed, people start tilling their land, and it would probably be inappropriate to distract them.

"What do you think about Russia's billionaires?" ­ I have already said that, in principle, privatisation was neither fair nor equitable, but that it is inappropriate to dismantle things now.

"Does happiness exist?" ­ I have already answered that question.

"They are dividing money at a London court again." This, too, has been discussed.

"Why do child benefits of a mother of three in the Khabarovsk Territory differ from child benefits in other regions?" ­ Yes, child benefits are paid from two sources nationwide.

To the best of my knowledge, federal child benefits are something like 13,000-plus roubles. They will be indexed and will total 14,000 next year. Parents with two children are eligible for benefits accounting for 100% of their salary. The maximum benefit in this category totals over 30,000 roubles. The second part includes mothers who have not worked before, so-called "housewives." We recently introduced benefits for this category as well, although it's true, that these benefits are not very impressive, totaling over 2,000 roubles for the first child and 4,000 roubles for the second child. But these benefits will also be indexed.

Regional benefits are the second source. Of course, these benefits are pitifully small. In this sense, I would advise regional leaders to prioritise their social requirements. They need to pay more to those who really need such benefits.

There are quite a few wishes and very positive statements here, although very many negative statements have also been voiced. I would like to assure you that I also pay attention to the negative comments, no matter what. I won't read all the many positive statements. I would simply like to thank people very much for their support.

A news ticker message has also congratulated all of us on New Year's Eve and the upcoming Christmas season. For my part, I would also like to congratulate everyone on the New Year and Christmas.

Ernest Mackevicius: Mr Putin, here is probably the last question. In the past and again today, you have outlined an ambitious action plan and have set some very impressive goals. Tell me, please, is all this feasible?

Vladimir Putin: You know, I have not said absolutely everything about all the specific goals and tasks being set by us.

In order to accomplish them, we need to boost labour productivity by about three times. Some analysts believe this is simply not feasible. At first glance, we have many extremely difficult tasks. But I think that we can do all this because I believe in Russia.

Ernest Mackevicius: Will we meet here in this studio next year if you win the elections and become president? Will this format of communicating with the people be retained?

Vladimir Putin: You know, I'll turn into such a big boss, and I'll become such a bronze monument that I will stop visiting you. Come on, cheer up. We have been meeting with you for ten years. Certainly, we will continue this format.

Ernest Mackevicius: I would like to thank all of our audiences, and our participants in today's programme, all those who sent in their questions, called us, communicated with us from Russia's cities, and those who gathered here in this studio today.

This was "A Conversation with Vladimir Putin: Continued."

Thank you, Mr Putin.

Vladimir Putin: Thank you.