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Excerpts from the JRL E-Mail Community :: Founded and Edited by David Johnson

TRANSCRIPT: Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's interview with the Rossiya and Moya Planeta TV networks

Vladimir Putin: So, should we begin with the Olympic mascot?

Correspondent: What is it, anyway, a leopard or a snow leopard? What do you think?

Vladimir Putin: I was speaking with the experts just now. The leopard and the snow leopard belong to the Felidae family. All leopards belong to the Panthera genus.

Experts think the snow leopard is a separate genus. Indeed, it has several distinctive morphological traits ­ the size and shape of its head, the size of its tail, and other criteria. It's a separate genus. Today, our experts, who are already closely engaged in the study of snow leopards, have concluded that the genetic characteristics suggest that the snow leopard also belongs to the Panthera genus. So, in principle, both leopards and snow leopards, as well as all the leopards that we know of in the Far East and the Caucasus, are panthers, according to their genetic characteristics.

As a result, strictly speaking, there's nothing wrong with depicting this animal in a way that's perhaps more reminiscent of a snow leopard, and calling it a leopard. That's not the point. This is a composite image that tells us that Russia is diverse. Its beauty is in its diversity. The fact that an Olympic symbol is an animal that we're giving a new lease on life, that was nearly driven to extinction in the 1950s, suggests that Russia is changing. The country cares about nature, its riches and preserving them for future generations. This is a symbol of contemporary Russia.

Question: You are making a good example by pushing five projects to conserve wildlife ­ polar bears, white whales, leopards, tigers and now snow leopards. The list needs to expand, right? You need to personally supervise it, I think, and then everything will move faster.

Vladimir Putin: We are still speaking with the experts on this issue. We were actually talking on the way here about what else can be done. If we talk about marine wildlife, for example, then we could work on seals. In my opinion, it would be interesting to work on freshwater seals, like we have on Lake Baikal and Lake Ladoga. We could work in that direction. Oddly enough, though, there are many of them. It makes more sense to work on the Black Sea's dolphins. Scientists want to know how they are reacting to the changing environment, including, unfortunately, the pollution of the Black Sea. Incidentally, the dolphin was also a contender to become an Olympic mascot.

Correspondent: It's a pity it didn't win.

Vladimir Putin: Yes. It's truly a symbol of the Black Sea.

Correspondent: It's good they're not being taken out of the sea, as is done in some parts of the world.

Vladimir Putin: Then, as the experts say, we could work on the Saiga antelope. Their numbers are declining dramatically ­ both due to poaching and wolves.

The Przewalski Horse's revitalisation could also become an interesting project. There are none left in the wild. Today, in the Orenburg Region, the military have handed over large tracts of disused land to environmental agencies. It could be used to revive the Przewalski Horse.

Question: Are you following these five projects? What happens to these animals? Do you know?

Vladimir Putin: Yes, of course.

Question: What's in store for them? Just more collars and traps?

Vladimir Putin: No, there will be more research. This is the kind of research that helps to protect wildlife. I just mentioned dolphins, and it wasn't an accident. It has to do with what is happening to the Black Sea's ecology. It's not immaterial. This isn't to be taken lightly. Or, say, we're talking about the possibility of studying birds and their movements. We can also tag them with sensors and collars. This is directly related to human interests. Take the bird flu. It's basically forgotten, but it won't go away. For practical purposes, of course, it's very important to understand how these birds migrate, where they fly to and from where they return. We were just told that it's also possible to study cranes this way.

Question: That's a separate issue altogether ­ a completely separate project. Since we're talking about protecting wildlife ­ the State Duma will soon review a draft law on the responsible treatment of wildlife, in terms of human security and the humane treatment of stray flocks. It's a well-known fact that there are more stray dogs in Russia than in the entire world combined. What do you think? How can we resolve this issue?

Vladimir Putin: Nobody has counted how many stray dogs there are the world over. We probably have more than European cities. But if you look at other regions, I'm not sure we have more.

Correspondent: I've been around a bit ­ travelled to 40 countries. There are really a lot of them here.

Vladimir Putin: But we don't have as many stray monkeys as some countries.

Question: Nevertheless, how can this issue be solved?

Vladimir Putin: We need to allocate the necessary funds. This, of course, is a task for city authorities and municipalities. This isn't an issue that should be addressed at the federal budget level.

Question: Mr Putin, how is the economy doing? Have things gotten a little better?

Vladimir Putin: Not only better ­ there's a stable trend of economic growth.

Question: Was it so difficult before? Is the crisis really over?

Vladimir Putin: We can say the crisis is over when we restore production and the GDP. After all, what happened? The global market declined, and I have spoken about this many times. Take our steel and coal industry... To large extent, some coal companies were exporting up to 60%-70% of their output. The demand for this product has dropped, and our production has "shrivelled." We need to restore production across all sectors. We haven't achieved this yet.

I think we will completely restore the GDP in 2012. And then we can say we overcame the crisis. We are seeing a recovery trend.

Question: Was it frightening to make decisions?

Vladimir Putin: It wasn't frightening, but we were on the alert because of many uncertainties. No one could say how the situation would evolve with the global and national economy. When there is so much uncertainty and obscurity, then, of course, there is cause for concern. But we were sure we would overcome the crisis, as we implemented the right economic policy. Also, as our economy has matured, it has changed in the past decades. We're always talking about diversification. Unfortunately, we haven't reached the level of diversification that we would have liked to so far ­ meaning the diversity of our economic opportunities. However, the process continued to move forward over the past decades. We built up our reserves ­ not only the Central Bank's and the government's financial reserves, but our industries themselves have also become more viable.

As for the reserves, remember, we strengthened the Central Bank's foreign exchange reserves and established two state reserve funds ­ the National Welfare Fund, which mainly aims to support the pension system, and a reserve fund, which we expected to spend only under worsening global economic conditions. And that's what we did.

We assumed that, in the past year, in late 2010, we would have a reserve fund of around 250 billion roubles. Instead, on Jan. 1, 2011, we had 745 billion roubles. In other words, we didn't "eat it up," but rather accumulated more funds. This year, we estimate that the fund will reach somewhere around 1.5 trillion roubles.

Question: If we talk about the human factor, then you always need to make very serious decisions that influence the future of the country's people first and foremost. When you make these kinds of decisions, do you think about someone in particular, such as your loved ones, or do decisions need be made without any emotion, dispassionately?

Vladimir Putin: Decisions must be made soberly and coolly, but making them is impossible without any emotion. It's a natural contradiction. And if I try to explain to you which emotions arise, then you know ­ it's quite well known. I'm from a simple family and I lived a simple way for a very long time, almost my entire adult life, except for the last 10 years. I lived as an ordinary, normal person, and I have always maintained this link. It will be with me my entire life. Of that, I have no doubt. So, all the while, when we make certain decisions, I think about how they will tell on the average citizen. I think this guiding principle is vital and correct.

Question: "The average citizen..." It's great that you often communicate with people who you see in this situation. Do you have anyone, for example, who you use as a measuring stick? Who do you listen to? You said, "The average citizen." But among your relatives, is there anyone about whom you're thinking at this very moment?

Vladimir Putin: You know, I remember how my father walked out onto the landing and carefully read the electric meter. You know, our older generation is precise, meticulous... They may have been pennies, but he wrote down every penny, every kilowatt, and always made these payments in time. And it was important for the family. And I remember all of this ­ how he went up the ladder and read the meter. This is life ­ the real lives of ordinary families. We must never forget that.

Question: My grandmothers, your parents ­ they are a generation who are not so much into economising. They just know how to count, or something. Are you a thrifty person?

Vladimir Putin: No, probably not. Probably not.

Question: In other words, you have no problem spending money?

Vladimir Putin: Not really. A man must think all the time about how to support his children and provide for his family's welfare, so he can't just throw money around. That's irresponsible, in my opinion. And so, it's the same at the national, governmental, private and domestic levels.

Question: I have an idea I want to run past you. Remember, there was a congress of the Russian Geographical Society last autumn and we met there...

Vladimir Putin: Yes.

Question: And the Moya Planeta TV station presented the "Hundred Wonders of Russia" project, which you supported. Perhaps you could name a few favourite places in Russia that you would like to revisit and we could make a special programme? It would be interesting.

Vladimir Putin: You don't need to make a special programme about my favourite places. You should make special programmes about places that are interesting to the vast majority of your viewers and your listeners. You need to do something that interests the people.

Question: Sure. But, still, do you have any favourite places?

Vladimir Putin: We have such a diverse country. I'll be honest with you. I find it hard to talk about one specific place. I really like the Far East. Kamchatka is an absolutely one-of-a-kind place, really very special. There is no other place like it on Earth. I like the look of the hills. The Far East has a different environment than the European part of Russia. Siberia is beautiful ­ a rugged environment, with colossal rivers, mountains, foothills and a world of its own. This very place, where we are right now, is absolutely one-of-a-kind, too. You, too, must have noticed it as we were driving here.

Correspondent: I've been to Norway, as I mentioned. It's exactly the same. Why fly so far for so much money? Although it can also be expensive to fly here. But our environment is so rich. We have everything.

Vladimir Putin: Yes. You mentioned Norway again, but let me tell you something. Take a trip to Lake Ladoga. You have the same archipelagos there, the same bodies of water and the same charm... Lake Baikal and Ladoga... The country's south ­ the very same Caucasus ­ has young, beautiful mountains. And what a north we have! Unique. And we were there, remember?

Correspondent: Yes, in the Arctic.

Vladimir Putin: This is something that we have yet to learn and master. You were talking about our economic difficulties and problems. And one of the biggest worries is jobs. For any government, the most important thing is to provide jobs and to enable the people to earn money honestly, to improve their families' welfare.

We have a large untapped area. It would seem that there would be enough work to go around, but there isn't. Markets are not territories or numbers of people. Markets are territories, people and buying power. We need to create conditions for people to allow them to explore new territories and to create new industries.

Correspondent: That's serious infrastructure. We haven't been able to iron out this kind of system yet.

Vladimir Putin: Why not? We've been able to iron out some things. Some things function efficiently, while others don't operate very well. In some places, there is absolutely nothing yet ­ just empty territory. But we have undoubtedly prospects. There are colossal prospects for Russia and all of humanity.

Question: We're talking right here and now, and, on the other side of the camera, they're signalling to us that it's time to go. Is it always like this with your schedule?

Vladimir Putin: Yes.

Question: I perfectly understand your workload. It's eight in the morning now. We're in Khakassia, an hour later you're already in another region, and then you're in another country. Do you like this kind of lifestyle or is it some sort of magic trick done by the powerful?

Vladimir Putin: It has nothing to do with power.

Question: It's just in your nature?

Vladimir Putin: It has to do with one's lifestyle. You know the famous Soviet-era expression: "The power to live to one's heart's content." But to live to your heart's content, you don't need to travel a lot, to meet people, to deal with specific tasks... You can delegate this to your staff, and enjoy your position. But that's not much fun, in my opinion. Self-realisation by way of accomplishing specific tasks brings more satisfaction.

Question: But you still need to rest?

Vladimir Putin: The classics tell us that holidays are a change of activity. We've arrived in Khakassia, worked with a snow leopard and seen a programme that the Russian Geographical Society is funding. We should pay tribute to our experts, scientists and people, who are passionate about their work. They also travel from one region to another...

Correspondent: They're caught up in their work.

Vladimir Putin: They don't sleep enough. They think about these issues all the time and solve them. They're passionate about their work and only this kind of attitude yields results.

Question: In other words, you rested a bit while we were talking?

Vladimir Putin: Exactly.

Correspondent: It was good to see you again. Have a nice trip and I hope to see you soon.

Vladimir Putin: Thank you.

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