The President’s annual news conference was broadcast live by Rossiya 1, Channel One, NTV and Rossiya 24 television channels, as well as Mayak, Vesti FM and Radio Rossii radio stations.

President of Russia Vladimir Putin: Good afternoon, colleagues.

I think that we can get down to work.

There is quite a distance between us, but I do hope that our technical staff have made all the necessary arrangements so that you can hear me well. I also hope that I will be able to hear you clearly.

Mr Peskov, I think that we can begin without any lengthy introductory remarks, since this would be more useful and interesting for everyone.

During this meeting, I will try to answer your questions, and, without any opening remarks, satisfy your curiosity and inform you on the outcomes of this year, as well as what we expect in the near future, and what we will strive to achieve in our work.

Mr Peskov, please.

Deputy Chief of Staff of the Presidential Executive Office – Presidential Press Secretary Dmitry Peskov: Let us begin.

To start with, I would like to give the floor to the true doyen of the Russian journalistic corps – one of the Interfax agency leaders, Vyacheslav Terekhov.

Please pass the microphone to the first row.

Vyacheslav Terekhov: Good afternoon, Mr President.

The sound will be somewhat muffled, a mixed sound, as radio operators say.

You just said you will talk about further economic development – the world has been waging a global war on the coronavirus for the past two years, and now we will be fighting the Omicron variant, of course. How has this war affected the Russian economy? It has indeed affected almost everyone in some way. What are the ways out of this economic crisis, out of this pit, what drivers are there? Do we have to wait until everyone gets vaccinated before we can discuss the possibility of economic growth?

And the most important question, of course: how do you assess the work of your ‘general staff’ – the Government and the Central Bank – during this ‘war’?

Sorry, when I mentioned the Central Bank just now, I remembered that my questions have always referred to the Central Bank, during the past three or four news conferences, except the most recent one – it just happens.

Thank you.

Vladimir Putin: If I provide full answers to all your questions, even if I succeed in this task, I believe we could round up this news conference after that. These are very broad questions. In fact, they touch upon our main efforts, as well as those of the entire world, which, as you have mentioned, has been fighting the coronavirus.

This struggle continues, and we are aware of the dangers that Omicron, this new strain, poses. I think that we will have an opportunity to get back to this topic during today’s meeting.

As you may know, a group of Russian scientists and experts is now in South Africa, where their colleagues actually discovered this new strain. They are working there, and are quite successful at that. Once again, I would like to thank our colleagues from South Africa.

As for the impact this situation has had on the Russian economy, and what we are to expect in the near future, we have spoken about this, in general terms, many times.

Faced with the challenges posed by Covid-19 and the restrictions the economy and the social sector have had to face in this connection, it is obvious that the Russian economy has been better mobilised and prepared to withstand these shocks compared to many other developed economies around the world, if we look at the top five, six, seven or ten major economies, or even twenty. I will discuss this in more detail later during our news conference today.

The Russian economy declined by three percent, which is much better than many of the world’s leading economies, and we recovered faster than many others.

You know the numbers. Even last year, we could see the trends, and today I even have a chart here with me, and will share this information with you in order to be precise. GDP growth is expected at the level of 4.5 percent this year. It has added 4.6 percent as of the end of October, while manufacturing increased by 5 percent, and the processing sector grew by 5.2 percent.

Crop yields will be slightly lower in 2021 compared to the previous year, which is due to the weather. We had 133.5 million tonnes in 2020 and now have 123 million tonnes. Still, this is a very robust result which not only enables us to satisfy our needs, but also provides for a substantial export potential.

Fixed capital investment was up 7.6 percent as of November. We expect this indicator for the entire year to come in at 6 percent, up from a 1.4 percent decline in 2020.

The construction sector performed quite well, with a record high of 90 million square metres built. This is the first time we have achieved this figure in Russia’s contemporary history. I would like to congratulate all those involved in the construction sector, from the top executives to on-site construction workers, with this milestone.

Thank goodness, average wages have started to grow in real terms. There are also changes in terms of real disposable income. We had a 2 percent decline in 2020, but this year we expect this figure to rise.

Of course, we will talk about inflation. We expect the inflation rate to be 8 percent.

It is much higher than the forecast. But, even adjusted for inflation, real income has still increased by 4.1 percent. Our experts estimate that real income will show a 3.5-percent annual growth. Of course, this will not be true for all categories of citizens. Naturally, it is an average rate and I want to stress this once again, when people watch this and listen to this, they might say: it’s an average again. But we have to talk in average numbers since they serve as a certain benchmark. I think we will cover the topic of personal income in more detail today.

We set a goal of returning to the pre-pandemic unemployment rate – and it did go down. The unemployment rate before the pandemic was around 4.6‒4.7 percent. The current rate is 4.3 percent. It may go up a little to 4.4 percent by the end of the year. This is a very good indicator for the performance of the economy in general even though there are certain difficulties and challenges related to the labour market such as, for example, the number of people working at the construction sites we have just mentioned. It is a serious issue.

Now, I would like to speak about the trade surplus. Last year, despite all the difficulties, Russia’s trade surplus amounted to 94 billion [US$]. This year, the figure has almost doubled, reaching 184 billion, which is also an excellent result.

Russia’s foreign debt has slightly decreased. It is the lowest level of foreign debt in the world, around four percent.

What other important indicators speak for the quality of governance and the performance of the entire state, the Government and the Central Bank, in particular? Our international reserves have grown from US$595 to US$625.5 billion. The National Welfare Fund is growing as well and currently amounts to US$185.2 billion. All these figures are an indication of stability and good macroeconomic results.

There are issues that cannot but cause concern, including life expectancy, which has slightly decreased from 71.5 to 70.1 years. We will most likely cover this topic today as well. It is one of the negative consequences of the coronavirus pandemic.

Right. So, on the whole, I believe that both the Government and the Central Bank deserve – let us be modest – an acceptable score. The results are positive.

Now, about the growth drivers. Your question was about the potential growth drivers, and about vaccination – if we need to have the entire population vaccinated or not.

Look, we have already spoken many times about the growth drivers for our country based on the specific situation that has developed over a fairly extensive period. We can even consider the entire post-war period, since 1945. What are our challenges and what are the drivers, accordingly?

I have just spoken about an unfortunate decrease in life expectancy, an increase in mortality in our country, and in this regard, one of the most important problems, one of the most important challenges that we face is getting more acute – I am referring to demographics. It is a challenge both from a humanitarian point of view and from the geopolitical perspective as well, I mean the country’s population – 146 million for such a vast territory is definitely not enough; economically too, we have a workforce shortage.

As far as I know, the working age population is now just above 81 million. We must drastically increase this figure by 2024, by 2030. This is one of the factors of economic growth, let alone – I would like to emphasise this once again – the geopolitical and humanitarian components of this most important matter.

Therefore, preserving the people that Solzhenitsyn wrote about is becoming one of our most important tasks and one of the drivers of growth.

Second. What other growth drivers? The next driver is infrastructure, infrastructure development.

In this regard, I can say that we are making very strong efforts on this track. You know that we are channeling 500 billion rubles of federal funds directly towards the development of infrastructure. Then there are the National Projects; we started with 260 billion, I believe, then more than 400 billion, and next year, we will allocate 460 or so. We plan to allocate another 2.5 trillion rubles from the National Wealth Fund in the next few years – 2.5 trillion overall.

Of course, the third growth driver is increasing labour efficiency but this includes a whole set of programmes from education and digital transformation to healthcare, which we have already mentioned. This includes an entire set of programmes. Most of them are ready, so we know what to do. We have earmarked the resources needed to move in this direction, and we provide for regular allocations. The funds to this effect are available. All we need to do is set up this work properly and achieve maximum returns on every ruble we invest in delivering on these objectives.

Finally, one of your questions was about vaccinating the entire country. Unfortunately, in Russia the vaccination rate is low, just like in many other countries – take, for example, some European countries where the low level of vaccination is also a matter of concern. This is the case for Germany with its developed healthcare, but even there the healthcare system, one of the most effective in Europe, faces a lot of criticism.

What is the vaccination rate in Russia? As of today, or maybe yesterday, it was 59.4 precent. I had no doubt that this would be one of the main topics during today’s news conference, so I talked to Ms Popova and Ms Golikova. The figure of 59.4 percent is where we are in terms of achieving herd immunity in Russia. This includes both those who have recovered from the coronavirus infection, as well as those who have received the jab. Some 70 million people have received the first dose, and a little over 70 have had both.

This is not enough. We need about 80 percent of our population to be immune to achieve herd immunity. I hope that next year, at least by the end of the first quarter or in the second quarter, we will have reached this level. Some countries are already talking about the need for 90–95 percent to be immune in order to achieve herd immunity.

This is how things stand, more or less.

Thank you.

Dmitry Peskov: Thank you.

Moving on, I suggest that we go through Russia’s major news agencies.

TASS news agency, please, go ahead.

Veronika Ichetkina: Good afternoon.

Veronika Ichetkina, TASS News Agency.

In a way, I would like to follow up on social spending by the state and the budget.

The state has recently increased its social spending. Judging by the budget for the next three years, as adopted recently, the state will continue doing so. It is curious that there was a lot of talk some time ago about social spending cuts next year.

Can you comment on these allegations? Overall, how would you describe the new budget? Can it be called a development budget or a budget with a social focus?

If you will allow me, I would like to finish my question. May I? Are any further increases in social spending possible during the pandemic? If this does happen, have you assessed the risk of inflation spiralling out of control, considering that it is already quite jumpy.

Thank you.

Vladimir Putin: First, about the characteristics of the budget. Of course, it is a socially-oriented budget. Naturally.

I extensively discussed this matter with my colleagues from the Government yesterday. If you look at healthcare and social spending, the healthcare expenses, for example, are, obviously, growing. The federal budget expenditures, the compulsory healthcare insurance budget and the regional budgets amount to 1.5–1.7 trillion in total.

Moreover, I think we planned to allocate around 3.6 trillion for healthcare from two sources, the federal budget and the compulsory healthcare insurance system. This year we are about to reach 3.9 or 4 trillion in spending. Next year the plan is 4 trillion, and, obviously, the actual amount will be higher.

These are completely objective figures. And I did not include regional expenses, which vary from region to region and from year to year. They currently amount to 1.6–1.7 trillion, which is quite significant.

If we speak about the social sphere, there has been an apparent increase in spending. Even during the pandemic, when we were developing support measures for the most severely affected sectors of the economy (and the numbers were huge, 4.5 percent of the GDP last year and another percent of the GDP this year, which makes 5.5 percent in total), we did not just give away money randomly. Our support for the hardest hit industries focused on preserving jobs and supporting people with low incomes who are particularly vulnerable in these circumstances.

Who are these people? First of all, young families with children. I think I do not have to list all the measures, but I will mention some that are widely known.

We added more categories of families to those receiving state support – for example, all families with children aged three and younger.

We started paying maternity capital for the first child. Then, we began paying benefits to pregnant women who are experiencing hardship. We paid additional benefits for children aged three to seven. We paid one-time benefits of 5,000 and 10,000 rubles to different categories – primarily people facing financial difficulties.

It is an entire toolkit of measures – worth 4.5 trillion rubles last year, and we continued this kind of support into 2021. Again, we did it all to either directly support people, or support them through businesses – we provided financial support to companies that kept people on board and maintained a certain level of wages.

Among other things, as you know, we have recently increased the minimum wage and subsistence level. At first glance, this might not be a significant increase, but the idea is to have social benefits indexed immediately, and this affects millions of people. All social benefits are calculated on the basis of the minimum wage or subsistence level, and by the way, this also leads to indexation of certain pensions.

Therefore, without a doubt, this budget can be described as socially focused.

Answering your colleague’s question about growth drivers, I have mentioned some of our absolutely unprecedented, grandiose infrastructure development plans. Look at the massive resources to be invested: we plan to allocate 2.5 trillion from the NWF alone; 500 billion has already been allocated; and 460 [billion] will be additionally allocated next year.

We will also invest hugely in labour productivity and digitalisation in all industries, practically from top to bottom.

Therefore, as I am saying, this budget is socially focused, but it is also focused on development. This much is absolutely obvious if you look at the figures.

Veronika Ichetkina: May I clarify something?

Vladimir Putin: Yes, of course, go ahead.

Veronika Ichetkina: I have also asked how higher social spending will affect inflation.

Vladimir Putin: Yes, right. Sorry.

You are absolutely right, and this is one of the key issues with maintaining macroeconomic stability, because many of the world’s leading economies have relaxed their macroeconomic policies and have significantly accelerated their money printing presses. This is an obvious thing, and it has led to a fairly high inflation in the leading economies – this much is also obvious. Everyone sees this – these are the numbers everyone can see.

Budget deficits are growing in all leading countries, all of them, higher in the United States, slightly less in the eurozone, but still, this is a significant and unusual change.

For example, the inflation rate in the world’s leading economy, the United States, is 6.1–6.2 percent, if memory serves, whereas the target figure was 2 percent. In other words, the inflation rate is three time above the target figure.

Inflation is high in Russia as well, 8 percent, while the target was 4 percent. Our inflation rate has grown twofold, whereas it has tripled in the United States. This is serious. I believe that the FRS [US Federal Reserve System] will have to do something about this.

This soft monetary policy is having an impact on macroeconomics and ultimately cancels out the positive goals of this policy, including support for the economy and the citizens. We have this problem as well, because 8 percent is too high, and we certainly need to attain the target rate of 4 percent.

Of course, we can criticise the Central Bank. I am aware of this, because I maintain daily contact with our colleagues from the real economy sector, and I know that they are criticising the Central Bank, and I know their arguments. Trust me, we meet nearly every day, although this is not reported on television. They sit three metres from me, and we discuss problems. Television only shows a small part of my contacts and meetings, when we work in front of cameras. I hold such meetings and conferences nearly every day. They just sit down further away from me, just about three metres away. But we discuss things every day.

I know that the real economy is not happy with increased interest rates. But if we do not do this, the situation will be like in Turkey. This is the problem. It is a serious matter and a major challenge. Of course, this instrument should be used carefully, but the Central Bank has an independent policy. This may seem strange to you, but I do not interfere with the Central Bank’s operations. However, I have a positive view of them, and I believe that we usually manage to find a middle ground.

Why? What are the risks of raising interest rates? This can hinder growth. We must grow faster that the world’s average, by 3.4–3.5 percent a year in the near future, not even as high as now – by 4.6 percent. The target of 4.4–4.5 percent would be great. But increased interest rates are decreasing the possibility of attaining this goal.

We cannot see this now, because the lending volume is not decreasing, and banking possibilities are growing. Sberbank will report 1 trillion rubles’ worth of profits this year. In other words, we have found a middle ground, by and large.

Dmitry Peskov: Let us move on.

I suggest that we turn to RIA, the third of Russia’s major news agencies. Mic to the central sector, please.

Yelena Glushakova: Yelena Glushakova, RIA Novosti.

Mr President, just now you were talking about social support measures, but the business side of the question is of no less importance.

In your opinion, how can we balance anti-COVID restrictions with the need to keep the economy going? Not only major corporations suffer from restrictions, but small businesses too: retailers, small restaurants, cafes, small shops, the cinema industry, and the entertainment sector.

If you allow me, I have a second question in this connection. How well did the governors perform? They received a lot of authority during the pandemic but used it in different ways, introducing various restrictions. In your opinion, how well did they perform? What grade would you give them for their efforts?

Thank you.

Vladimir Putin: Let me start with the question on businesses and how we have been supporting them.

You said that major corporations are not the only ones to suffer, and that small enterprises suffer as well. In fact, it is primarily small businesses that suffer, even if major corporations also felt some negative consequences. We devised support measures for these sectors, in fact, for all major sectors of the economy, if you remember, for all major corporations. I specifically asked the Government last year, at the very beginning of the year, and the Government complied.

Our key industries and major corporations have clearly benefited from a number of measures. After all, they operated without any or virtually no interruptions, and in some cases even increased their output. This is the case for the defence industry, which reported higher production volumes.

As for small and medium-size enterprises – catering, gyms, cinemas, and even theatres, museums, etc., all the enterprises in the service sector – of course, they were the first to suffer. However, they were also the first to receive our support. There was a whole range of measures. I do not know whether I need to list them all. This included subsidised loans, direct support to save jobs and wages, reduced interest rates, loan payments in installments, lease subsidies, etc. By the way, some of these measures are still in place, and you know this.

We have allocated and continue to allocate large sums of money from the federal budget to this effect. The Government is doing this intentionally and understands what is going on. That said, it may well be that some things should have been done in a more sophisticated and responsive manner. Still, I would like to praise my colleagues’ work. After all, this is all happening in direct contact with the business community.

As you know, I recently attended events held by the Russian Union of Entrepreneurs and Industrialists and had meetings with the heads of other business associations, including those working with SMEs. Overall, these people have expressed their understanding and overall were quite positive about the Government’s efforts to support businesses.

Incidentally, the result was not bad at all. As I have said, we overcame the crisis faster than many other world economies. Our fall was not as bad and we came out of the crisis quicker. This is a result after all.

Now, as regards… what is the second part of the question?

Yelena Glushakova: About regional governors.

Vladimir Putin: Assessment of the heads of the regions.

You know, I have said many times and I would like to reiterate – I think you will agree with me: many countries have followed our path. Indeed, we were the first to say that ours is a large country and the situation in various regions is different and is developing in different ways. So, with overall guidance from the federal centre, and a government commission was set up for this purpose, we must still give the regions the opportunity to regulate the situation locally, considering the subtle nuances. Is it possible to compare, say, Chukotka and Moscow? They are completely different, and the epidemiological situation has been different from region to region because of our vast territory.

Let me repeat, like any complex issue, some things could probably have been done better and with more urgency, but in general, the heads of the regions showed the utmost responsibility and were not afraid to make difficult decisions.

In turn, the Government and the federal centre has always supported the regions that made the required decisions and needed assistance, say, from the federal centre. Assistance for the regions has been increased many times over.

Cooperation between the federal centre and the regions has produced positive results, the results we needed.

Dmitry Peskov: All right, let us go on.

Let someone from the regions speak. There is a girl in a yellow blouse there. It says: “A City for Life.”

Go ahead, please.

Lyudmila Danilkina: Good afternoon,

Veliky Novgorod, Lyudmila Danilkina.

Our city that you, Mr President, have visited more than once, is not big but it is very beautiful and has an ancient history. I am talking about the city for a reason because my question is part personal and part business, about the urban environment.

Which city would you personally choose to live in, except St Petersburg and Moscow? This is the first, personal part of my question.

The second part is about Novgorod Region. Our region is very fortunately placed between the two capitals, which is, of course, a plus for our territory. But we would develop much faster if there were a high speed railway not far from Novgorod. There is a lot of talk about it now at both the federal and regional levels.

I would like to know the prospects for the development or, to be more precise, implementation of this project on our territory.

Thank you.

Vladimir Putin: As for my place of residence, you said “other than Moscow and St Petersburg.” Why did you exclude Moscow and St Petersburg? These cities are part of the Russian Federation as well, and I was born in one of them. It is my hometown, so when you asked this question, my first thought was about St Petersburg.

Our cities, large and small alike, are developing at a fairly fast pace, although we should focus primarily on developing small cities. We have been discussing this lately and are making efforts to expand infrastructure, primarily, to ensure transport connectivity both by rail and road, as well as by air, sea and river transport. I have already spoken about this, it is one of the growth drivers in which we plan to invest enormous resources.

Much depends on connectivity, because one can and should be able to live in a favourable environment – I am not talking about myself – and to commute to work or change where you work. Increasing mobility of the population is one of our goals.

So, it is possible, and I would, of course, think of St Petersburg first and foremost as my hometown.

Krasnodar in the south of Russia is developing quite well. Look at how the coastal area and Crimea are developing.

Now, speaking of infrastructure, we are talking about developing the Eastern Operating Domain, but not only. Let us say, Moscow–Kazan, and we plan to extend it further to Tyumen and then make it a loop.

All of that makes the people feel they live in a favourable environment with easy commutes from their places of work to their homes, where they can meet with their friends and go to places catering to other aspects of life, such as cultural centres with internationally recognised museums, and so on.

I think we have many beautiful and worthwhile places where people can and should feel comfortable.

High-speed rail is a separate topic that is still in the works. First, if there is to be a high-speed railway, I think Veliky Novgorod should feel its presence, because even though it is high-speed rail, the train must stop somewhere. Veliky Novgorod is one such place where the train can make a stop. Moscow–St Petersburg air service will clearly cease to exist, because it will take just three hours to get from central Moscow to central St Petersburg, whereas now it can take up to 90 minutes to get to the airport in Moscow. So, air service on this route will no longer make sense.

We need to weigh everything, think it over and have a look at high-speed rail in other countries. For example, the People’s Republic of China has many such railway systems. Until recently, they were all operating at a loss, even in China with its population of 1.5 billion people. This is economics, and numbers must be taken into account.

This is important for our country and can provide a solution for traveling certain distances. Air travel is a better solution in some places. These things are still being studied at the expert level.

Thank you.

Dmitry Peskov: Alexander Gamov, Komsomolskaya Pravda, please.

Alexander Gamov: Thank you.

Mr President, thank you very much for coming here today. Dmitry Peskov said it was your idea.

If you do not mind, I would like to go back to the topic you and Mr Terekhov touched upon in the beginning.

You meet with our academicians and experts. In your opinion, what is the reason for the new COVID-19 waves? Every new wave seems to be worse than the one before it.

Just how confirmed is the effectiveness of vaccination really? How do scientists explain the fact that people contract this virus again even after vaccination and booster jabs?

Why is the mortality rate so high? I do not think that the number has been mentioned today. The fact is that around 1,000 people in Russia die of coronavirus every day.

I made a horrific discovery the other day. I looked at the global mortality rate, which was around 6,700 on that day. I realised that one in every six or seven deaths happened in Russia. Can we really allow this to continue?

Mr President, I am saying this because, for example, in democratic Austria there are fines for those who refuse to get vaccinated. Perhaps we should introduce some criminal charges for those who campaign against doctor visits?

You know, it occurred to me: you often say that Russia is having a hard time; that we are surrounded by enemies. I think we never could, and especially today, we simply cannot afford to lose one thousand people every day.

Thank you very much.

Perhaps, what we need is the political will of the country’s leadership. Mr President, we will support you. You know what I mean.

Thank you.

Vladimir Putin: Yes, I know what you mean.

As for being surrounded by enemies, have I actually said that? True, there are military bases around us. To the east and to the south, and the north of Russia, new military systems have been installed, including at sea, to say nothing about the west. I think we will talk about this in the international relations section. Encircling a territory like ours is not an easy thing to do, although modern tools probably make it feasible in theory. Well, this is a separate topic.

Speaking about new coronavirus strains and waves, what causes them is the virus’s ability to mutate, nothing else. The answer is simple. Ever new strains emerge where there are problems in the healthcare system and low immunity. For example, in Africa, there is a high incidence of immunodeficiency, the human immunodeficiency virus – hence new coronavirus strains. It is not surprising at all.

This is why I keep saying it is important to mutually recognise vaccines and make them available around the world as soon as possible in sufficient amounts. Otherwise, we will not be able to tackle this problem on a global scale and humanity will always live with this virus and sustain huge losses. We even have a new term: excess mortality.

You know, this is simply terrible, but it is difficult to estimate the number of COVID deaths, and not because somebody is trying to hide the facts. Not at all. On the contrary, I have encouraged our healthcare system and the Government to keep everything as open as possible, clear and transparent, and also – I am absolutely sincere about this – because people must see the importance of vaccination. Why is the death rate so high? Vaccination coverage, herd immunity is quite low in the country, only 59.4 percent. Our neighbours are talking about the necessity of increasing the rate to 90–95 percent, while our figure is 59.4 percent, which explains the current situation.

Should we try to prosecute people? No, I don’t think so. The point at issue is not political will. The fact is everything has an equal and opposite reaction. When you apply pressure, our people, who are very ingenious, immediately devise methods to evade it, and they will do so in this case as well.

We must pursue an alternative. We must respect people, whatever their position, and we must patiently explain the importance of taking specific measures.

Take vaccination. You asked about the reason for COVID reinfection, etc. It is true that reinfection can and does happen. But do you know the reinfection rate among those who have recovered from the disease? People do get reinfected – your colleagues in this room, and our international media are writing about such cases. They write that those who have recovered from the virus can fall ill again. Yes, they can fall ill. But how many do? Only 1 percent of those who have recovered from COVID. And how many of those who have had the jab fall ill? Only 3 or 4 percent. And the number of vaccinated people in intensive care is much lower compared to non-vaccinated people. These are objective figures, and we simply need to tell people about them, to keep them informed.

I have mentioned this before, but back in the Soviet era nobody asked your permission for vaccination. They just gave you the shot, and that was it. Those who stood at the helm of our big country in the Soviet period and contributed to its dissolution are now among the leaders of the anti-vaccination campaign. They are doing this to increase their popularity among the part of our people who are questioning the necessity of vaccination. This is a dishonest position. If they are competent and clever people who act responsibly with regard to their electorate, whom they must protect, they must take a principled stand rather than sit on the fence and try to gain popularity on the nation’s health.

It we act in a principled manner, trying to explain the necessity of vaccination to the people consistently, intelligibly and respectfully, I believe we will attain the desired effect. Any other method will be counterproductive.

As for tightening accountability and so on, they are doing this in Germany, yet the vaccination rate is low. So, why do it?

We must fight crime rather than law-abiding people. For example, there are falsified vaccination certificates. Over 200 such cases have been initiated, most of them under two articles: forgery and malfeasance. I believe that over 270 such cases have been opened. This is what we must fight. But on a more fundamental scale, we must explain and persuade.

BBC, please.

Petr Kozlov: Good afternoon, Mr President.

Petr Kozlov, BBC Russian Service.

Vladimir Putin: Good afternoon.

Petr Kozlov: Alexei Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation and headquarters were designated as extremist organisations and disbanded this year. He is in prison now, after being poisoned, conducting an investigation into the poisoning and claiming to have identified the individuals involved.

Over 100 media outlets have been put on the foreign agents’ registry. Most of them were listed this year, actually, during the past six months.

What happened in Russia recently for the number of those who the authorities consider extremists, undesirable organisations or foreign agents to have grown so fast?

Let me say a few words about history. You often talk about history, and you know it. Probably, you remember that each time power in Russia was concentrated in the hands of one person in the absence of active opposition, when Russia was in a state of active, acute confrontation with the West, ultimately this situation prompted a response which plunged the country into the abyss of wars and revolutions. Do you not think that you, possessing all the power, are now laying the foundation, perhaps, for such wars and revolutions?

Thank you.

Vladimir Putin: First of all, speaking of history, as a reminder, our opponents have been saying throughout the centuries that Russia cannot be defeated, but can only be destroyed from within, which they successfully accomplished during World War I, or rather, after it ended, and then in the 1990s, when the Soviet Union was being dismantled from within. Who was doing it? Someone serving the interests of others that run counter to the interests of the Russian and other peoples of the Russian Empire, the Soviet Union, and the Russian Federation today.

You mentioned the person who was allegedly poisoned. The Prosecutor’s Office of the Russian Federation has sent multiple official inquiries asking to provide at least some materials corroborating that he was in fact poisoned. There are none. How can this be explained? Not a single thing about Novichok or whatever you call it.

We suggested that our specialists go there and join the investigation. I spoke with the President of France and the Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany, asking them to allow our specialists to come, take samples and verify things, so that we can at least have some grounds to open a criminal case. No response whatsoever. We ask them: how can this be explained? Silence. So, there is no need to discuss it, let us turn the page if there is nothing to say in response.

As for inmates, every country has always had them, and that is never going to change. Do not commit criminal offences under the guise of political activity.

Next, regarding the list of media acting as foreign agents and media outlets designated as foreign agents. I agree with you, it’s not good. But let me remind you once again that this law was not invented here; it was invented in a state that – you represent the UK here, and the UK is the closest ally of the United States – a state everyone considers to be the beacon of democracy.

The United States adopted this act back in the 1930s, but this is not the point. What is important is that it is in effect now. It is in force today. About 0.034 [percent] organisations have been labelled foreign agents there. Is this surprising now? We have the same share of foreign agents, 0.034, the same number. What is the difference? The difference is that in the United States, if you have not shut down, you face criminal liability, up to five years in prison. Even if you stop any activity and close the organisation it does not exempt you from criminal liability – five years.

We do nothing like that. We do not prohibit the work of these organisations; we just want organisations that are engaged in internal political activity in Russia to clearly explain and disclose the sources of funding for their operations. That is all, they can continue doing what they are doing. Our law is much more liberal. If you think this is not enough, if, like your colleague here, you think we need to introduce liability, administrative or criminal, for failure to get vaccinated – why don’t we introduce criminal liability for foreign agents’ operations if the organisation fails to close, like in the US? But we do not even demand termination of their operations – we just want them to be honest about their sources of funding.

There may be questions about the understanding of ‘political activity.’ I agree with you here. There may be questions about regulating this kind of activity. We have 74 organisations designated as foreign agents of 200,000 registered NGOs – that’s 0.034. Just like in the States, but we do not have such severe penalties, which include criminal liability.

Now, regarding keeping power in the same hands. We have distinct branches of power – the executive, legislative and judicial authorities. Clearly, the delineation of authority between these branches can have minor variations depending on the specific country at a specific stage of its development. We will strive to ensure that they are independent, so that the country is cohesive, efficient and forward-looking. And in the end, it will be up to the Russian people to choose their system of society and state, not up to those who you serve today.

Next, please.

Dmitry Peskov: Let us continue. I suggest giving the floor to the television channels

Vladimir Putin: Of course.

Dmitry Peskov: I see NTV, Irada Zeinalova. You do not need to introduce yourself.

Irada Zeinalova: Good afternoon, Mr President, colleagues.

Since we were talking about history, I would say that things are happening almost according to [Alexander] Gorchakov, who said, “Russia is focusing.” Of course, we would like to focus on our internal problems, to address our internal affairs.

However, over the past few weeks the global media have been fuelling tension, saying that the Russians are coming, Russia is planning to attack Ukraine and wants war. Serious people call you, and you talk with them and explain our position, but they do not calm down. As a result, we send our proposals, establish our ‘red lines’ and, roughly speaking, explain the rules of the game, which, you must agree, did not exist before. For the past 30 years, we have been living in a swamp and have been told that we do not meet certain standards.

We have set our red lines, and we know that we have outlined our security priorities and interests. But we also remember from history that any agreement reached during negotiations can remain on paper, the way it happened many times in the past. The smallest provocation after such talks can lead to a big war, and the agreements remain on paper or are forgotten again.

So, here is my question. Mr President, what should we prepare for? What is a realistic outlook, and since the word “war” has been said out-loud, have we estimated the probability of war even as the result of a provocation?

Vladimir Putin: You brought up Gorchakov and the end of his phrase, “Russia is focusing.” You may also recall that the first part of the phrase – in reply to a question about whether Russa was angry – was, “No, Russia is not angry, Russia is focusing.”

I will try to give a short answer, yet I will have to begin at the beginning. The aggravation began in 2014. Before that, even though the Soviet Union had ceased to exist and part of historically Russian territories with a historically Russian population, primarily in Ukraine, had found themselves living outside Russia, we accepted that as a fact of life and felt more or less comfortable about it. We even helped those new republics to get back on their feet, and we worked, were ready to work and are still working together with their governments, whatever their foreign policy priorities.

Suffice it to recall our relations with President [Viktor] Yushchenko and Prime Minister [Yulia] Timoshenko, who indicated, like the current Ukrainian leadership, their absolutely pro-Western position. But we worked with them anyway. It is true that we argued over gas, and there were conflicts, but eventually we came to an agreement, and we worked, and were ready to continue to work together, and we never even thought about doing anything about Crimea.

But what happened in 2014? A bloody coup, people were killed and burned alive. I am not talking now about who was right and who was to blame. Obviously, Ukrainian citizens were rightfully indignant and displeased at what was happening in the country. The then president, Yanukovych, had agreed to everything. Three foreign ministers – of Poland, Germany and France – guaranteed the peaceful development of the situation and the peace process. I talked with the US president at that time at his initiative. He asked me to support this process as well. Everyone agreed but then a coup took place in a day or two. What for? There is no answer. Why was it needed? President Yanukovych agreed to everything anyway. He was ready to give up power anytime. The elections and the victory of the opposition were inevitable. Everyone knew this very well. Why was it done then?

Then Crimea happened. But how could we turn down the request of Sevastopol and Crimea, the people who lived there, to take them under our protection, under our wing? It was not possible. We were simply put in a situation where we could not have acted differently. Or were we supposed to just look on passively at what was happening in the southeast, in Donbass, which has only ever thought of itself as part of Russia, even during the formation of the USSR in 1922–1924? But Lenin and his comrades wedged Donbass in there by force. At first, they decided to make it part of Russia and then said the decision had to be revised.

They revised it and created a country that had never existed before. We will not talk about it now, but this is what happened then. They crammed in there the historical lands of people whom nobody asked how or where they wanted to live. All right, this is what happened, we agreed. But we had to do something in 2014 and this led to the crisis that is unfolding today.

All right, the Ukrainian authorities twice attempted to resolve the Donbass problem by force although we persuaded them not to do this. I personally persuaded Mr Poroshenko: Anything but military operations! Yes, yes, he said and then resorted to force. What was the result? Encirclement, losses and the Minsk agreements. Are they good or not? I think they are the only possible way out. So, what is the problem? There is no desire to implement them. They adopted a law on indigenous people and announced that the Russian people who lived on this land, on their own land, were not indigenous. Incidentally, the same was done to Poles, Hungarians and Romanians. Hence the disputes in Ukraine’s relations with these countries. They exist. They do not get a lot of attention, but they are there.

Language came next. The Russians and the Russian-speaking population are being forced from their historical lands – that is what is happening. All right. Everyone says: Russia must abide by the Minsk agreements. We agreed. But they, the government suddenly submitted to parliament a law on a transitional period. How does it tally with the Minsk agreements? Instead of amnesty, this law provides for a ban on amnesty, all but criminal liability for amnesty. Instead of elections, this law introduces military government, and instead of amnesty – lustration. What is all this about? And they got it approved by the Venice Commission. So, how are we supposed to react to all this?

This is the domestic policy component. But then we hear: war, war, war. You could get the impression that maybe a third military operation is in the making. Moreover, they are warning us in advance: “Do not interfere, do no protect these people. If you do interfere to protect these people, certain sanctions will follow.” It may well be that they are preparing for this. This is the first option we need to respond to, and act, while keeping this in mind.

The second option is, in general, to create, as I said in my article, an anti-Russia of sorts on this territory by constantly stockpiling the latest weapons there and brainwashing the local population. Just imagine how Russia must live and carry on, from a historical perspective? Do we have to live, while constantly keeping an eye on what is going on over there, and what new weapons’ systems were delivered? Under the cover of these new weapons’ systems radicals may well decide to settle the Donbass issue, as well as the Crimean issue, by military means. Why did they support the Crimean Platform? On the sidelines they keep saying: “Fine, let’s forget about Crimea.” But no! They mean to get even there.

After all, we have to be mindful of our own security, not just for today and not just for next week, but in the short term. How is Russia to live with all this? Do we always have to stay on guard, watching what happens there and when a strike might come?

This is a serious matter. I have just spoken about our plans for infrastructure development, social policy, and healthcare. But what does it all mean if we end up in the conflict you are asking about? This is not our choice, and we do not want this.

It is for this reason that I responded to President Biden’s proposal, who suggested appointing responsible representatives to lead strategic stability talks. Stability and security, ensuring security on this territory and in this area is one of the key matters on today’s agenda. We must understand how to ensure our security. With this in mind, we spoke out clearly and directly against any further eastward expansion by NATO. The ball is in their court. They need to respond in one way or another.

In this connection, I would like to emphasise that the overall response we have been seeing has been quite positive. Our American partners are telling us that they are ready to launch this conversation by starting talks early next year in Geneva. Both sides have appointed representatives. I hope that the situation develops in this very direction.

Dmitry Peskov: Let us take questions from regional media.

Vladimir Putin: Mr Peskov, allow me. I see China.

Dmitry Peskov: Xinhua, I assume?

Vladimir Putin: I do not know. It says “China.” Please.

Dmitry Peskov: Please, pass the mic. Xinhua, please raise it higher.

Vladimir Putin: I meant that person though. But alright. They are not giving you the floor.

Dmitry Peskov: I apologise.

Vladimir Putin: I am sorry, they are not giving you the floor. Bureaucracy is to blame.

Ao Li: Good afternoon, Mr President.

Vladimir Putin: Good afternoon.

Ao Li: Xinhua news agency, China.

You recently held talks with President of China Xi Jinping via videoconference. You remarked that Russia‒China relations are a true example of cooperation between states in the 21st century.

Today, in view of the current complicated international situation, how should we understand this description?

Thank you.

Vladimir Putin: That is exactly how you should understand it. There is no hidden meaning. Indeed, the relationship between the People’s Republic of China and the Russian Federation has evolved to be as I described it. Perhaps you noticed that President Xi Jinping and I always address each other as “my friend.” And it is true: we have a very trusting personal relationship that helps our professional relationship as well.

In terms of the economy, first of all, Asia is a rapidly and successfully developing region, and China is the absolute leader of both the global and Asian economy. It is only natural that we are developing our economic relationship with China. Bilateral trade currently exceeds US$100 billion, which is above the pre-pandemic level. China is our biggest trade and economic partner with which we cooperate in many different fields.

In terms of energy, both China and Russia committed to achieve carbon neutrality by 2060. But before that deadline, we will be supplying all types of energy resources to China. We are willing to continue beyond the deadline because life will not stop in our countries in 2060, and there are many ways to achieve carbon neutrality, even while still using hydrocarbons, provided that they are used appropriately.

We continue to cooperate in nuclear energy, high technology and space – in almost every industry, including technology-intensive sectors.

Our people-to-people cooperation includes organising mutual years of youth exchanges, years of science, education, culture and so on. These initiatives, of course, bring people together at the most basic level, in humanitarian sphere.

We cooperate on security. The Chinese army is extensively equipped with the most advanced weapons. We even develop some technologically advanced weapons together. We cooperate in space and aviation, on both airplanes and helicopters. Finally, we promote cooperation between our armed forces through joint military exercise and international military games, joint maritime and air patrols. Ours is an overarching partnership of strategic nature that has no precedents in history, at least not between Russia and China.

This daily hard work benefits both the Chinese and Russian people. It is, of course, a strong stabilising factor in the international arena.

There is a sign saying “Children”, so we will not go further into international affairs. “Protection of children”.

Dmitry Peskov: Yes, the sign saying “Protection of Children.”

Shamil Guliyev: Good afternoon, Mr President.

I am Shamil Guliyev from Tobolskoye Vremya.

The problem of harmful content that children find on the internet remains a pressing one, as you have said before. This results in bullying at schools and various types of incitement, among other provocations.

Some time ago, the introduction of registration on social media with passport data was discussed. Could you please say if this will happen eventually? And what other measures might be taken to protect teenagers from potentially dangerous content that they might come across on social media?

Thank you.

Vladimir Putin: I totally agree with you, Shamil. This is a problem not only for Russia.

Look, this topic is being debated almost in all countries, both in the media and in representative bodies of power. This issue is being debated in the US Congress, and representatives of these global networks and global platforms are summoned there.

What does this mean for us? Business above all and, unfortunately, money at any cost. It means evading national oversight, evading the need to give some thought to children, as your question indicated. The priority for them is making a profit. Hence all the negativity associated with it: the encouragement of suicide, the same tragedies in schools over and over.

Consider it, we have prevented over 100 cases of such serious crime at educational institutions recently. Unfortunately, these tragedies happen and we have to contend with a steady stream of them. However, more than 100 have been prevented; 127 if I am not mistaken. Of course, this is an enormous problem for the entire world, including us. And it naturally results in demands to “ground” these platforms so that they have to open offices here to comply with national laws.

Speaking about ending anonymity on the internet, this is also being debated in our society and all over the world. The internet is part of our lives, and an ever bigger part of it at that. So, everything happening on the internet must comport with the general rules of human life, both moral and legal ones. Of course, all that is required is to observe the golden mean, as in many things, not to suppress freedom of expression and freedom to distribute information on the internet, while also protecting our society from possible negative effects, which you have just mentioned.

I hope that the golden mean will be found and we will also continue to insist on working with global platforms so that they follow our laws. As you know, a lot of countries slow down traffic; there are also other ways, including essentially blocking them completely. We are very reluctant to take such extreme measures, but if we are forced to, we will have to make greater demands on those who work in this area and neglect the interests of the Russian society.

Dmitry Peskov: By the way, I saw some bloggers on the list of accredited journalists. Are you here? Show me please, if there are any bloggers present. Please introduce yourself.

Anya Khilkevich: Good afternoon.

My name is Anya Khilkevich. I represent a social network called Yappy. I heard what my colleague said, and I have a question. The development of all these digital services opens up enormous opportunities, including in education. Teaching and communicating information to young people is possible through entertaining and game-based content. Yappy is a convenient app for viewing and creating original videos, for trying creative ideas.

So my question is: what do you think about interacting with young people through this kind of environment? Or do you think the younger generation is degrading?

Vladimir Putin: Why degrading?

Anya Khilkevich: I mean they are not developing, evolving.

Vladimir Putin: Of course not. Humankind is always evolving and children are always better and smarter than their parents. It is an obvious fact because more information is accumulated and communication improves. People have more and more opportunity to be creative. They do not just run faster or jump higher but also think in less conventional and more creative ways. What is the core of education today, especially for younger children? Games.

Of course we must use the opportunities you are talking about. This is why, by the way, we are working to expand the broadband internet network to the entire country. We have a specific plan and funding. We are about to finish connecting schools to the internet and will soon start with rural areas. I believe we have allocated about 24 billion rubles for this project, and Russian Post will be involved. Despite the debate about whether a commercial organisation like Russian Post should be supported, I think it should. Then people living in rural areas will be able to use its facilities and enjoy the opportunities you mentioned.

This is not a problem. The problem is that the content should be useful. Young people should not become addicted to the internet. Browsing the internet from dawn until dusk should not be a substitute for real life. There needs to be some kind of movement, a full life, with sports, museums and theatres.

The internet opportunities you mentioned and the various networks must complement real life rather than cause people to plunge into a virtual world and live a virtual life all the time. That would indeed lead to degradation. To prevent this, representative government bodies, parliaments, public organisations and non-profits must work together to develop certain rules of behaviour.

Dmitry Peskov: Maybe we should give the floor to foreign media.

Sky News.

Diana Magnay: Thank you for taking my question. I am afraid it is in English.

You have talked a lot about security guarantees, and now we have seen your proposals. You also say you have no intention of invading Ukraine.

So, will you guarantee unconditionally that you will not invade Ukraine or any other sovereign country? Or does that depend on how negotiations go?

And another question: what is it, do you think, that the West does not understand about Russia or about your intentions?

Thank you

Vladimir Putin: Regarding your question about guarantees or whether things depend on the negotiations, our actions will not depend on the negotiation process, but rather on unconditional guarantees for Russia’s security today and in the historical perspective.

In this connection, we have made it clear that any further movement of NATO to the East is unacceptable. Is there anything unclear about this? Are we deploying missiles near the US border? No, we are not. It is the United States that has come to our home with its missiles and is already standing at our doorstep. Is it going too far to demand that no strike systems be placed near our home? What is so unusual about this?

What would the Americans say if we stationed our missiles on the border between Canada and the United States, or between Mexico and the United States? Haven’t Mexico and the US had territorial disputes in the past? Which country owned California? And Texas? Have you forgotten? All right, nobody is talking about this now the way they are talking about Crimea. Very well. But we are trying to avoid talking about the creation of Ukraine as well. Who created it? Vladimir Lenin did, when he established the Soviet Union. This is set out in the 1922 Treaty on the creation of the Soviet Union and in the 1924 Constitution. True, this happened after his death, but in accordance with the principles he formulated.

But the matter at hand concerns security, not history, but security guarantees. This is why it is not the negotiations themselves but the results that matter to us.

We remember, as I have mentioned many times before and as you know very well, how you promised us in the 1990s that [NATO] would not move an inch to the East. You cheated us shamelessly: there have been five waves of NATO expansion, and now the weapons systems I mentioned have been deployed in Romania and deployment has recently begun in Poland. This is what we are talking about, can you not see?

We are not threatening anyone. Have we approached US borders? Or the borders of Britain or any other country? It is you who have come to our border, and now you say that Ukraine will become a member of NATO as well. Or, even if it does not join NATO, that military bases and strike systems will be placed on its territory under bilateral agreements. This is the point.

And you are demanding guarantees from me. It is you who must give us guarantees, and you must do it immediately, right now, instead of talking about it for decades and doing what you want, while talking quietly about the need for security guarantees to everyone. This is the point. Are we threatening anyone?

Now to your second question. Repeat it, please.

Diana Magnay: What is it that you think that the West does not understand about Russia or about your intentions?

Vladimir Putin: Does the West understand or fail to understand something? You know, sometimes I get the feeling we live in different worlds. I just talked about things that are obvious. How can you not understand them? They told us: there will be no expansion, but they expanded. They promised us equal guarantees for all under several international treaties. But this equal security has failed to materialise.

Look, back in 1918, an aide to US President Woodrow Wilson said that it would be a relief for the entire world if instead of one huge Russia, that a separate state in Siberia and another four countries in the European part be created.

In 1991, we divided ourselves into 12, I believe, parts, and we did this ourselves. Still, it seems that this was not enough for our partners. They believe that Russia is too big as it is today. This is because the European countries themselves turned into small states. Instead of vast empires, they are now small states with 60 to 80 million people. However, even after the Soviet Union collapsed, and we were left with just 146 million, it is still too much for them. I believe that this is the only way to explain this unrelenting pressure.

Take the 1990s, for example. The Soviet Union did everything to build normal relations with the West and the United States. I have said this many times, and I will repeat it, so that your listeners and viewers understand. I do not recall what media outlet you represent, but this is not the point. We had representatives from American intelligence services at our nuclear, military facilities; monitoring Russia’s nuclear weapons sites was their job. They went there every day and even lived there. Many advisors, including CIA staffers, worked in the Russian Government.

What else did you need? Why did they have to support terrorists in the North Caucasus and use organisations of a clearly terrorist nature in attempts to break the Russian Federation apart? But they did this, and as former Director of the Federal Security Service, I know this all too well. We worked with double agents, and they reported to us on the objectives set for them by Western intelligence services. But why? They should have treated Russia as a potential ally, and made it stronger, but it all went in the opposite direction; they wanted to break it down even further.

And then they started expanding NATO eastwards. Of course, we told them not to do this, arguing that they promised not to. But they asked us: “Do you have any paper record? No? If not, go away, we don’t care about your concerns.” This continued year after year, every time we showed our teeth and tried to prevent something and voice our concerns. But no: they did not want to hear anything, saying that they would do what they considered necessary.

There were one, two, three, four, five – five waves of expansion. What is it they don’t understand? I don’t know. You can say that this is all abundantly clear. I do believe that it is clear as daylight: we want to ensure our security.

Dmitry Peskov: Regions. I see you, Kaluga.

Tatyana Zimushina: Good afternoon, I am Tatyana Zimushina from Kaluga Region, Nika TV.

I would like to go back to the topic of coronavirus. The danger this virus poses has already been mentioned here but other diseases have not vanished into thin air. Therefore, it is important to also think about regular healthcare. It is being affected by a shift towards designating more hospital beds for Covid patients, and there are also other restrictions. Regular healthcare is being cut and, judging by media reports in other regions, it was suspended altogether in some municipalities during the pandemic. Can we avoid this outcome? Or will we see more closures in the event of another serious new wave of the disease? Can this be rectified?

My second question is about post-Covid medical screening. It was announced last summer and it has also been launched in our region. Are you keeping track of it and are you being updated on its outcomes? Has this medical screening proved to be effective and did it help many people?

Vladimir Putin: As for regular healthcare, indeed, it was severely affected during the early stages of the coronavirus pandemic. But it was expected, as we had to modify some hospitals and clinics to free up beds for Covid-19 patients. This is my first point.

The second, as it was necessary to have enough healthcare professionals, or doctors, some of them had to undergo retraining, including general practitioners and specialists, to learn how to fight Covid-19. They were also in short supply.

Now, in connection with this, the scheme of referring patients for treatment had to be changed, that is, if some healthcare institutions switched to Covid treatment, patients were referred to other hospitals or clinics to make sure that routine medical care is provided without interruption. Some clinics ended up closing for good, while others closed for cleaning after treating Covid patients. There were quite a few problems.

During the initial phase there was a shortage of masks, medical gloves and the necessary clothing. This put an even greater strain on the healthcare system.

I hope we have dealt with all the challenges. I hope we will no longer have any shortages, although we recently had some issue with oxygen. But the Armed Forces and industry have helped us with this challenge. Once again, I hope that none of this will happen in the future.

Volunteers have joined us, university professors and senior students, too. On the whole, we have rallied together and got a grip, to be able to effectively respond to these threats.

One thing we focus on besides preventive measures is post-COVID rehabilitation. We have allocated the necessary resources. How is this work going? Unfortunately, not as efficiently as we would like. I don’t remember whether I already said this or not – only 1 million Russians have taken advantage of this check-up system. This system should actually work steadily and systematically, unaffected by any COVID restrictions, difficulties or other challenges. But post-COVID rehabilitation, post-COVID check-ups are quite effective.

Here, too, there are certain difficulties and prejudices, maybe. People are often afraid to visit medical centres like this, afraid of new infections. I want to say that our specialists, doctors are doing everything they can to ensure the health safety of people who come in for rehabilitation, for a medical examination, as well as to provide help because people who have had COVID really need it very much. We all know that COVID hits all body systems – the vascular system, the internal organs – the heart, the kidneys, the liver and brain can be affected, so patients need rehabilitation. A very good system has been created and tested. I hope it will expand, I really do. The conditions have been created for this.

Dmitry Peskov: Let us continue. Channel One, please.

Pavel Krasnov: Thank you.

Pavel Krasnov, Channel One.

Mr President, the issue of gas is dominating minds, above all in Europe, of course. We are seeing an extremely acute gas crisis. However, when it broke out and prices soared, we started to hear endless accusations directed at Gazprom and Russia in general with ever increasing frequency. Another round of accusations on restricting supplies via the Yamal-Europe pipeline came the other day. Generally speaking, the accusations are contradictory: we are accused of monopolising the market, while also not supplying enough gas.

Yesterday, our Ukrainian neighbours made some news. Naftogaz again asked the European Commission for nothing less than to compel Gazprom to offer more gas for sale. This seems funny, of course, but the Europeans are not in a laughing mood. The situation in Europe is very difficult: gas prices set an absolute record – more than $2,000. This never happened before and was impossible to even imagine. But is Gazprom to blame for this?

Mr President, here is my question: is there at least a tiny grain of truth in these accusations against Gazprom?

Vladimir Putin: Certainly not. There is no truth to them. This is like trying to say that down is up.

Our colleague here asked what the West does not understand. They lie all the time. This is why they are muddying the waters. Gazprom supplies all the gas requested by our counterparties under their contracts. Moreover, it has even increased supplies by almost 12 percent, I think, or by about 20 percent if we exclude Russia’s immediate neighbours. Overall, it is increasing supplies to Europe as well.

In my opinion, this is the only country, the only global company that behaves like this. I have already said at many meetings, including international events, that American suppliers withdrew considerable amounts from Europe, from the European market, I believe. I think the total amounts to 14 million tonnes of LNG. They took it to premium markets, first to Latin America, to Brazil, and then to Asia: China, South Korea and Japan. Because they pay more for this gas. The Europeans thought they had premium markets, but no. It appears that these markets are in other places as well. Prices began to soar. There are many factors: bad weather, a long and cold spring last year, a shortage of gas in underground storage facilities and windmills failing to work. All this contributed to the shortage.

In the process, government authorities are harassing their oil and gas companies, which do not invest enough in expanding production as a result. This is how the shortage emerged. They did not pump enough gas into underground storage facilities and now they are taking it out in a big way. Of course, this is a problem. Now some Western operators are storing their gas in Ukraine’s underground facilities. They are actively withdrawing it and using it in their own countries. This is understandable since the gas from underground facilities is many times cheaper than on the market.

We were saying – and I want to repeat it – that there was no point in destroying long-term contracts. The European Commission was telling us: no, it is necessary to move to market relations, the market will set it right. This is how the market made its adjustment – over $2,000 for a thousand cubic metres. Take it. No!

You are correct, just yesterday they were shouting: help, this is Russia and Gazprom expanding and taking over the market. We are not taking over anything. Indeed, we supply a lot, but we are not the only suppliers to the European market. However, we are probably the only ones who are increasing our supplies.

We are being told to pump to cover the needs of the spot market, since they need to first meet the demand of their counterparties under long-term contracts.

Look at what is happening. Germany is our largest consumer in Europe. I might have my numbers off a little, but they take about 50–51 billion cubic metres a year. We supplied an extra 5.6 billion cubic metres there, which is more than 10 percent. Listen, this is a decent amount. We supplied an extra 4.4 billion cubic metres of natural gas to Italy.

You just mentioned the Yamal–Europe natural gas pipeline. I see Russia and Gazprom accused of Gazprom failing to book capacity for gas supplies to Europe via the Yamal–Europe route for the second or third day in a row. That is disgusting, how should I put it… Well, okay. This is just totally out of line. After all, it failed to book capacity, because its counterparties and companies, mostly German and French, who buy gas from this route, failed to submit bids for purchase. What is there to transit if Gazprom has not received purchase requests? What did they do then? They turned on this route in reverse mode and have been pumping gas from Germany to Poland for several days now.

I think everyone would find it interesting. Why? Because we supply gas to Germany under long-term contracts at prices that are three, four, six, or even seven times lower than on the spot market. Should you resell even 1 billion cubic metres of gas, you will make almost a billion dollars, 900 million plus. This is business. This is my first point.

They have stocked up on gas, having received from us 5.6 billion cubic metres on top of what is provided under long-term contracts, and are now reselling it. But there is more to it. After all, they are pumping gas in reverse mode, so how can it be supplied in the other direction? Gas cannot move in both directions in one pipe at the same time. So, they: a) failed to place an order; b) turned it on in reverse mode.

But this is only a portion of the information.

There is a connecting pipe that connects the Polish pipeline system with the Ukrainian system. The volume is about 3 million cubic metres per day. This is exactly the amount that Germany is supplying to Poland. I have every reason to believe that this gas is eventually supplied to Ukraine. Consumers in Europe and Germany should know what is really happening, and, perhaps, ask certain authorities to clarify their stance.

Instead of supplying gas to Poland and then to Ukraine in an effort to help someone tide over, it would be better to continue supplies to Europe, Germany, for instance, and to reduce the spot price, because the more product on the market, the lower the price. No, they began to pump in reverse. This is the problem. How is Gazprom involved in this?

So let them tend to their business and address their issues in time and not think that they are so smart and that God fell asleep on them. They should address the problems of their own making, and we are willing to help them do so, which is what we are doing. I think I just made a convincing case for it.

Dmitry Peskov: Let us continue in this sector.

Mir Channel, please.

Guzel Kamayeva: Good afternoon, Mr President. Good afternoon, colleagues.

Guzel Kamayeva, Mir Television and Radio Company.

Mr President, your meeting with the President of Belarus is scheduled for the end of this year. You are going to meet for the sixth time this year.

When will the citizens of Russia and Belarus feel some tangible results of the Union State roadmap? Free mobile roaming maybe, a unified document flow, as an option?

Thank you.

Vladimir Putin: We actually have a long list of cooperation options to bring our economies closer together and to make them more competitive. There is more than just roaming, although it definitely should be on the agenda. I certainly agree with you – people should actually feel the changes.

But we have already done a lot, especially on social matters. I am referring to free movement, the labour market situation, and even social security in a number of areas.

At present, we are trying to synchronise taxes, customs procedures, and laws. This is extremely important to ensure a uniform understanding of how we should work together to achieve the best result. These are, in fact, fundamental things – the fiscal policy, laws and customs.

It has been a long and difficult process of coordinating our approaches. I must say that Mr Lukashenko and his entire team are not easy negotiators, but we have generally reached an understanding of the pace we should move at and the steps we should take in this direction. This concerns access to the procurement market for goods and services organised by the state, by Belarusian economic operators. This concerns transport and many other matters.

Therefore, I am sure that our citizens will feel it, feel the impact on their lives. You know, it is not going to just fall from the sky, like manna from heaven, all of a sudden. But there are obvious things that ensure our competitiveness.

We are building the Union State. But the level of integration is still far lower than in the European Union; it is simply incomparable. I am not even talking about a single currency, never mind that. Perhaps it will be a subject for the future if our respective economic services come to an agreement on this score.

But first, we need to synchronise our economic laws including antimonopoly laws, and tax and customs regulations. We have agreed on this; we have agreed, and now we will start working. I am sure that there will be results.

I see a sign that says “Rubbish.” It is such a mundane thing but it concerns millions of people, and we should talk about things that people are concerned about.

Kristina Burmakina: Good afternoon, Mr President,

Good afternoon, colleagues,

Kristina Burmakina, Online47, Leningrad Region.

Here is my question. The Leningrad Region is actively reforming its waste management system: local officials are shutting down landfills and selecting sites for waste recycling facilities. But there is a problem: the same activists who advocated shutting down landfills are now protesting against recycling plants. Whatever spot you show them on the map, they will say: “Anywhere else, on the Moon – but not here.”

So the question is: how can we persuade people and what should be our communication strategy?

Vladimir Putin: You should address this question to the governor of the Leningrad Region.

I want to say that overall, the so-called rubbish reform is moving forward, despite the difficulties. Of course, the main goal is to resolve this issue in general but one of the essential midway tasks is to set up operators. By now, they have been set up in almost every Russian region. They are operating and the number of sites has increased multiple times over.

One of the first steps was to ensure that different types of waste are collected and stored separately. In some regions, we are ahead of schedule on this task. The current progress is around 40 percent, according to the reports I have. This is ahead of schedule.

The same goes for waste recycling facilities. The same goes for new modern landfills. Rubbish has to be disposed of somehow. There are options such as recycling, burning and other methods of disposal. There is waste that is impossible to destroy at this point so it has to be kept in landfills – but these should be modern landfills that are properly equipped and are located far away from residential areas. We are working on all these options and working fast, ahead of schedule. It is not a bad result.

Of course, there is always the issue of explaining to people that building waste management facilities is a reasonable solution for economic and environmental considerations. We need to show people how these facilities operate. Modern waste recycling facilities do not have to be located far from St Petersburg or major residential areas in the Leningrad Region. They can be located in big cities. Take Japan, for example: their waste recycling plants are located in the middle of cities with millions of residents, with hardly any negative impact on the environment or living conditions.

We simply need to show this. Instead of doing it on the sly, explain it to people beforehand. There may be other advantages to it like more jobs and higher wages. This is the way to go and the way to reach consensus.

Dmitry Peskov: Let us hear from Volgograd, the very top.

Vladimir Putin: Wait, I see the FSIN [Federal Penitentiary Service] sign here. Let that lady have the microphone.

Kseniya Sobchak: Mr President, after it was published…

Dmitry Peskov: Please introduce yourself.

Kseniya Sobchak: Kseniya Sobchak, Ostorozhno Novosti.

Vladimir Putin: I cannot see you; you are too far away.

Kseniya Sobchak: That is why I am wearing red.

Vladimir Putin: Fine. Go ahead.

Kseniya Sobchak: After the website made the archives of torture public, you fired the head of the Federal Penitentiary Service by executive order. My team and I have just returned from Irkutsk. We continue following the video archives, and people there are talking a lot about General Leonid Sagalakov, who is the head of the regional FSIN.

He was promoted to general not long ago. Clearly, you sign lots of executive orders like that, but I would like to know if you are getting objective information about these people? Because there is much evidence that this person took part in the torture, according to available testimony. Here, too, it is important who is bringing you files to build a case for promotion.

More recently, a draft law was introduced to the State Duma to expand the notion of “torture” and toughen punishment for practicing it. Mr Peskov has already said, I quote: “No presidential initiative is anticipated with regard to this draft law.” What does that mean? Do you agree that torture in Russian prisons has become systemic? How can we deal with this state of affairs?

You have seen or have been shown for certain or were told about these video archives. Do you have your own personal and emotional attitude towards this problem? The number of inmates who have been raped or tortured to death is high, more than 300 people at the most heinous SIZO-1 detention centre in Irkutsk alone.

The law enforcement officers whom we communicated with told us there are different ways to overcome this problem, one of which is to strip the pre-trial detention centres of the preliminary investigation function, because they are just torture chambers with developers assigned to them. The developers are people who should be convicted on serious felony charges, but have been instead making a home at these pre-trial detention centres for years and engaging in torturing inmates. Each of these torture chambers is assigned to a particular department in order to improve crime solving statistics from the Investigative Committee and so on.

Tell us about this; what will be done and will you personally supervise this issue?

Thank you.

Vladimir Putin: Regarding torture and, in general, degrading and cruel treatment of inmates, unfortunately, this is not just Russia’s problem. If you look at what is going on at correctional facilities in other countries, you will see that they have as many problems as we do. This is a worldwide problem. Probably, there are countries and facilities where things look problem-free. However, there are lots of facilities in Europe, France, for example, or the United States, which, I think, do not exist even in third world countries. This is my first point.

Second, we are talking about developing the penitentiary system and the construction of new facilities. Take the Kresty prison in the Leningrad Region; we did build new blocks. Incidentally, this was done, in part, after I visited it – a long time ago though – and issued instructions. This must be done, because even the exterior of prisons is important.

As for the essence of the question, what information am I using? I use information from various sources. Not that someone brings me a document that makes me happy and I sign it. No, I analyse proposals like this based on the information that comes from different sources – I would like to emphasise this, after which I put my signature on it.

Are mistakes possible? Yes, it happens sometimes; life is complicated and diverse, and nothing can change this. But in this case, and considering what you have told us, the assessment of this situation must be based on information acquired during an investigation. Seventeen criminal cases have been opened and are being investigated. You have mentioned one or two persons, but I believe that over a dozen people have been fired and are being investigated. Let us look into the matter and figure it out.

I can assure you that not a single investigator has a personal interest in that case. This is the reason we separated the Investigative Committee from the Prosecutor’s Office. They are not connected, these two organisations, let alone prisons, which are subordinate to the Justice Ministry, not even the Interior Ministry, although it has been said many times that the penitentiary system should return to its old place to ensure effective investigations.

Yes, there is a problem. We should work at it calmly with a scrupulous and comprehensive investigation, at least an investigation of crimes that have been committed, and what we are talking about is definitely a crime. And the investigation must be brought to its logical conclusion, so that everyone can see that punishment for such crimes is inevitable. I believe that in this case we can reach a positive result.

Of course, we must also use the capabilities of human rights organisations. These questions are always raised during my meetings with members of the Human Rights Council, and I try to respond to them accordingly. This includes prison conditions, healthcare in prisons, and treatment of inmates.

I would like to point out once again that of course, people in prisons are criminals, and the inmates in pretrial detention centres are suspected of having committed crimes, but they are Russian citizens, they are human beings and must be treated humanely.

Let’s work together to improve this situation.

Dmitry Peskov: This is to remind everyone that it is probably time to replace your facemasks. Let us follow doctors’ recommendations and replace our masks.

Ekho Moskvy, please.

Maxim Kurnikov: Maxim Kurnikov, Ekho Moskvy.

Mr President, I would like to continue with the topic that my colleague from Sky News began. She asked for some guarantees, and you said we would not give any guarantees. But you have already spoken with Biden several times, at least twice, as far as we know, and I want to understand how you see this situation. Do you have the same vision for the future of Donbass, and the future of the Minsk agreements? Because when later we hear statements from the White House, and statements from Mr Peskov, it sounds as if many things coincide, or seems to coincide, and yet the word ‘war’ is heard increasingly often.

Here we are, discussing the possibility of war. But at this very moment, Ukrainians are probably watching us and spitting at the screen, because war already came to their land in 2014, and they actually hold you and me responsible for it. They might not be aware of the details of who issues which orders, but they actually believe Russia is already at war with Ukraine.

You refused to give guarantees. How do you see it?

I received calls from listeners the day before yesterday, and we talked about how their families were discussing a possible war with Ukraine. And actually, it is shocking enough just to say the words. How do these thoughts appear inside your head, what do you think about this, is it possible? How can one give an order to a Russian soldier to shoot at a Ukrainian one, and vice versa?

And one more short remark. There are people who could not attend this news conference, and my colleague from Novaya Gazeta, Dmitry Muratov, a Nobel prize winner, gave me a question for you. I will read it out, so as not to miss a single word: “Mr President, do you personally know the names of those who ordered the murders of Politkovskaya and Nemtsov?”

Vladimir Putin: Let us start with the last part. I made every effort to see these cases solved; all the necessary instructions, directives and orders were given to every law enforcement and special service. As you know, people have been convicted and incarcerated for the crimes they have committed. Some say they are contractors, not the employers – the latter got left out of the equation, went into hiding or were given shelter, but investigative bodies have no knowledge of this. They have made every effort to expose the perpetrators of these crimes, and some of them died while being apprehended. I think you are aware of this.

And in general, I think that this score-settling is not just unacceptable, it does nothing but harm our country. So, I am absolutely sure that, even if there were some political motives, that can also be accommodated in the minds of those who do not understand what they are doing. But they must understand that the state will fight this kind of crime. We will continue doing everything within our power. If it was really ordered by someone that we do not know about, we will look for them. This is my first point.

Now, the first part of your question, the future of Donbass. The future of Donbass must be determined by the people who live in Donbass. There is no other way. We see ourselves as mediators for creating the best conditions in which the local population can determine its own future. Are there problems? Yes, because, according to the Minsk agreements, Russia is to act as a mediator but somebody else wants to make us a party to this conflict. There is no such provision in the Minsk agreements and it is not something we agreed to.

Speaking about those who may be spitting at the screen while watching this or any other event, there will always be people to spit at the screen, whether it is showing today’s event or what is happening in Ukraine: horrible poverty and the prospect of a harsh winter. When Verkhovna Rada deputies visit regions, they meet pensioners who ask them: “Why are you killing us?” Of course, they spit at the TV when they hear the bragging of the current Kiev regime. No matter the cause, there will always be people who spit, on both sides.

How can someone issue orders to shoot? You should ask the political leaders of Ukraine how they bring themselves to issue orders to fire on Donbass every single day.

You know, some time ago we reached agreement that only senior officials, all the way up to the relevant ministries, are allowed to issue orders to retaliate if either party fires. In one case it is Donetsk and Lugansk, and in another it is Kiev.

Why that decision? To make sure that attacks cease. The Kiev officials later back-pedalled and authorised field commanders to issue this kind of order. The shooting resumed. Ask them why they did that and how they brought themselves to issue orders to shoot at their own citizens since they consider Donbass residents Ukrainian citizens? Their own citizens. Not some other country.

As for the future, the Minsk agreements state that the Ukrainian Constitution must be amended to grant these regions autonomy, to hold elections and grant amnesty. As I said, what do we see in the draft law on transition period? A military government instead of elections. Lustration instead of amnesty. Returning troops to their permanent bases instead of elections and political solutions to political issues. This is the reality. What does it mean, returning troops to their permanent bases? It means sending troops to the territory without any political process or elections.

Look, as I have already said, there is a requirement in the Minsk Agreements to amend the Constitution. Where are these amendments? It is written there that these amendments must be coordinated with the representatives of the LPR and the DPR. They must be coordinated. I remember this perfectly well because I took part in drafting these solutions. Far from coordinating anything or making any proposals on amending the Constitution, they are refusing pointblank even to talk with Donbass representatives, although when these agreements were signed in Minsk, they insisted that Donbass representatives sign this document. And they did. Frankly, they were refusing to sign it. We had to talk to them to persuade them to do it. They did but now nobody is even talking to them. They are called terrorists and any possibility of talking with them is rejected. Can you explain why? Because instead of responding to the call for peace in Ukrainian society, which Zelensky exploited to come to power, he chose not to keep his promises, having fallen, like previous leaders, under the influence of radical elements that are called “natsi’ in Ukraine.

What is the problem for us? I think I have said about Donbass. We want to build friendly relations with Ukraine, moreover, we want to achieve this at any cost and will go to practically any lengths. But how is it possible to develop relations with the current leaders, considering what they are doing? It is practically impossible.

However, we are ready to work with those who would like to develop relations with Russia in the spirit of friendship. What is happening with these forces? Extrajudicial executions, sanctions against Ukrainian nationals in violation of Ukrainian law and Constitution, or simply killings in the street. Nobody is looking for the murderers.

You just asked me about murders that sadly took place in our country. You asked, where are those who ordered the contract killing? People are in prison. Whether they ordered it or not, they are in prison in any event. And what happens there? If a murder takes place in the street, nobody searches for the culprit at all. People were burned alive in the Trade Union House in Odessa – has anyone lifted a finger to find the criminals? Not in the least.

In other words, we do not have any chance of working with those people who want to move relations forward. The people who want to work with us are being destroyed – this is the gist of the problem.

Now about my agreements with President Biden. Yes, I have already said that he suggested appointing official representatives for discussing strategic stability issues including our concerns over the growing threat from Ukraine. He made an offer, we countered, and I think it was a very constructive and quick deal. Incidentally, I told him during our conversation: I promise you that we will send you our proposals in the near future. And we did this, we sent them to both the United States and NATO. We are ready to discuss them at the OSCE platform as well. I hope this first positive reaction and the announcement that work will begin shortly, in the first days of January, will allow us to move forward.

Dmitry Peskov: Moving on to the central section…

Vladimir Putin: Can you put it there? Lift it: “Tatars,” right?

Go ahead, please.

Kirill Shlykov: Good afternoon, Mr President!

Vladimir Putin: Good afternoon.

Kirill Shlykov: Kirill Shlykov, KazanFirst internet publication, city of Kazan, Republic of Tatarstan.

Like many other regions of Russia, Tatarstan has a programme to allocate plots of lands for families with many children – I am sure you know about it. The programme is working, plots are allotted, and everything is going well with this.

But now it is necessary to develop these areas. They need hospitals, kindergartens, schools and roads. Families with many children are eager to have a separate federal programme that would provide for the development of these areas because, unfortunately, the regions do not have enough funds for developing these “villages with many children.”

Maybe, it is worth drafting a separate federal programme, a subprogramme under a national project? Is it possible to do this? What do you as President, as the head of state, plan to do for developing the programme on allocating plots to families with many children and providing facilities for these areas?

Thank you very much.

Vladimir Putin: You raised a very important question, Kirill.

I said in the very beginning that we allocate huge funds for developing infrastructure. It is simply necessary to include these requirements in the projects you have just mentioned and in the infrastructure development projects for the surrounding areas.

I made a note for myself and I will certainly set this task for the Government and the regions, so that the regions submit their applications for the development of the regional road network among other things. For the time being, the level of the regional road network is below that of the federal network. I am referring to its compliance with standards.

But we have plans, for every year, on how we should bring these roads in line with standards. All this is supported by funding, and it is only necessary to tie in the problem you mentioned with our development plans. I will certainly raise this issue before the Government.

Thank you for telling me about this. You are absolutely right.

Kirill Shlykov: Yes, thank you, Mr President because society…

Colleagues, just a minute. I wanted to add that the army of families with many children is a big part of society.

Vladimir Putin: I understand.

Kirill Shlykov: We tell our audience about them and write about them all the time. They are raising these problems. They say practically every day that the state is giving them plots but, unfortunately, without developing the surrounding area.

Vladimir Putin: Yes, I understand.

These 500 billion that have now been allocated for developing infrastructure, plus another 460 billion under national projects and plus the money from the National Welfare Fund must not be just spent but used for comprehensive solutions, including support for families with many children.

I made a note for myself. This is absolutely correct. I fully agree with you.

Kirill Shlykov: Thank you.

Vladimir Putin: Can you move further up? Some of our colleagues are sitting far up, I cannot even see them.

Dmitry Peskov: Let us go to the back row. Volgograd is here, correct? Raise it higher, it is a dark red sign.

Go ahead.

Anna Korokhova: Good afternoon, Mr President,

My name is Anna Korokhova, Volgograd municipal television.

Our hero city is a major centre for patriotic education. You have repeatedly focused on the significance of the Battle of Stalingrad, the need to preserve historical memory, and the exploits of our ancestors during the Great Patriotic War. Preservation of memorials is an important part of this work.

The Motherland is Calling sculpture on Mamayev Kurgan had been renovated in time for the 75th anniversary of Victory. However, many sites at Mamayev Kurgan need attention badly, including the Battle of Stalingrad Museum-Reserve and its sites.

Is it possible, in the lead up to the 80th anniversary of Victory in the Great Patriotic War, to receive federal support in order to renovate these sites?

One more question, if I may. It is really important. It is about an exoskeleton. The Volgograd researchers have developed Ekzar-34 – an exoskeleton that helps with rehabilitation of patients with severe musculoskeletal disorders.

I will give you an example. Alexandra Agafonova, a person with a Group I disability, was struggling with congenital arthrogryposis for a very long time. She was even unable to hold a spoon. She is now a four-time Paralympic Swimming World Champion. People came to us for rehabilitation from other Russian regions and foreign countries. Unfortunately, it is very difficult to organise this work locally.

We would like to ask you to help us create the first all-Russian centre for building endoprostheses in the Volgograd Region.

Thank you.

Vladimir Putin: Let us start with your last question. Of course, we need to give it some thought. After all, we have programmes that provide people with disabilities with the necessary technical devices, and money is allocated to this end. Of course, the most effective, modern and expensive equipment must be purchased, and it is being purchased also from abroad.

I am absolutely sure that the people you mentioned and their invention, of course, are priced several times lower than the equipment that is purchased abroad. If it is as effective as you are saying, I will definitely let the Government know about this and we will see where it goes from there. First, we will see how to support them additionally and review the possibility of creating this centre. I am sure you understand that I cannot say right off the bat whether we need this centre or not. They do already have something that allows them to work, they have already done it.

If it is so effective, support can be provided in different ways and in different areas, including by providing support to small and medium-sized businesses, under social policy projects and through supporting people with disabilities. Different tools can be used here. I will issue an instruction to think about which of these tools can be used in order to support them. This covers your first question.

Second, federal support for cultural sites. Of course, in the run-up to important dates such as this, even more so in Volgograd, we should focus on the monuments that you mentioned. I made a note for myself.

We are providing this kind of support, I have no doubt that it is being provided in Volgograd as well, but I will double check it. If this is not enough and if something extra needs to be done in time for these significant dates, we will, of course, do it.

Dmitry Peskov: I saw Mari El.

Anastasia Petrova: Thank you.

Good afternoon, Mr President, colleagues.

My name is Anastasia Petrova and I represent the Republic of Mari El, the Mariyskaya Pravda (Mari Truth) newspaper.

Mr President, you suggested declaring 2022 the Year of Folk Art and Non-Material National Heritage. The Republic of Mari El is a multinational region where many talented people, like in many other regions of the Federation, are developing our culture. Our newspaper, Mariyskaya Pravda, regularly writes about them. By the way, it is among Russia’s top ten newspapers this year.

Here is my question. Mr President, do you think it is worth drafting and adopting some support measures in the law on folk crafts so that the development of folk art is supported on a regular, permanent basis?

And one more thing. I hope the administration and my editor-in-chief forgive me, but for the first time in 20 years I am asking you a question and am very happy about it. I will allow myself a small personal request.

Mr President, you know that the train from Yoshkar-Ola goes only to Moscow. I took the train yesterday at 7.26 pm, which is the only one, to come to the news conference today. It would be great if we could travel from Yoshkar-Ola to Nizhny Novgorod, Samara or Vladimir. You know, I went to Nizhny Novgorod in May. I do not have a car so I ordered BlaBlaCar and received fake links asking me to transfer the money. I am from the younger generation and I understand that customers of this service can be scammed. Unfortunately, older people who would like to go to Nizhny Novgorod or Vladimir from Yoshkar-Ola may get scammed into sending money. Maybe it is worth expanding the railway to make it possible to go from Yoshkar-Ola not only to Moscow but also to Nizhny Novgorod and Vladimir, as I have already said.

Thank you.

Vladimir Putin: Anastasia, I will surely talk today or tomorrow to Mr Belozerov, the head of Russian Railways, and he will definitely be instructed to look into the connectivity of these neighbouring areas.

Naturally, every company including Russian Railways works in market conditions, always looking at the economic component: will there be enough passengers. But I agree with you that if nothing is done, nothing will change, so let them try it. I am sure he will hear me, it is not even necessary to call him but I will call him nonetheless and talk with him. We will see what can be done. I hope that it will be possible to do something about this. Given the vast expanses of our country, the issue of connectivity is very important for Russia for both economic and individual reasons.

Now about folk crafts. I think we have still made a number of decisions recently concerning training for those who are involved in folk crafts and want to continue working in that field. That said, I have to agree that we have not done enough. After all, Mari El and other adjacent republics are unique in their own way. I remember my visit there. I looked at how people lived there, using all they inherited from previous generations, and how careful they were with all of it. Of course, it always evokes a desire to support all this.

You know, I made a note for myself and we will try to do what can be done additionally. Thank you for raising this issue. This is very important for our diverse multi-ethnic country. It is extremely important to support the languages and cultures, the authentic cultures of the peoples of Russia.

Dmitry Peskov: We should not forget those who do not have signs. Please, young man, go ahead but, first, introduce yourself.

Artem Vilovatykh: Hello, Mr President.

Artem Vilovatykh, Krasny Sever newspaper, Vologda Region.

I have the following question: you know that the Vologda Region is the homeland of Father Frost. Of course, you have been to Veliky Ustyug. Yesterday, a resident of St Petersburg sued our Father Frost for failing to grant his wishes over the previous 23 years.

Mr President, what do you think about how some of our compatriots recently seem willing to use any topic to gain public attention, or, as they say now, hype themselves. This is my first question.

Accordingly, my next question is about your relationship with Father Frost. Does he grant your wishes? Do you have New Year wishes this year?

We are going to celebrate the New Year before long, so it is time for a funny and light-hearted question.

Thank you.

Vladimir Putin: Is this an adult person?

Artem Vilovatykh: He is a lawyer from St Petersburg. If he says Father Frost has failed to grant his wishes for 23 years, he must be quite grown up.

Vladimir Putin: He is a lawyer from St Petersburg, an adult. I am also a lawyer from St Petersburg – there are some similarities.

What can I say about this? Here is how I would answer: since I am also a lawyer, I can act as Father Frost’s legal counsel and remind the plaintiff that Father Frost only grants wishes of and gives presents to good girls and boys. He should take a look at his behaviour and he might find out what is keeping Father Frost from lavishing New Year gifts on him. That would be the main line of defence.

As for hype, what is most important is that it is not for wicked reasons. As long as there is a dash or element of good humour, there is nothing bad about it.

Artem Vilovatykh: Still, what about your relationship with Father Frost? Does he grant your wishes?

Vladimir Putin: So far, we have maintained cordial relations and I am grateful to him for the opportunity to meet with you today in my current role. I am even more grateful to the people of the Russian Federation for entrusting me with this high office. Hopefully, Father Frost will not only give presents to each of us but, most importantly, make sure that the plans of the whole country and every citizen of the Russian Federation are realised.

Artem Vilovatykh: Thank you.

Dmitry Peskov: Rossiya 24.

Vladimir Putin: Excuse me, Mr Peskov, it is clear that Rossiya 24 is always on duty, but I see a girl holding a poster saying “Relocation.” It is always a painful issue.

Darya Shuchalina: Good afternoon, Mr President, colleagues.

I am Darya Shuchalina from Syktyvkar, the Republic of Komi. I represent the newspaper Panorama Stolitsy. I have been a social activist for 11 years. I am head of the Housing and Utilities Control centre in Komi too, and I am also a journalist.

One of the issues people bring to me has to do with relocation from dilapidated housing.

I would like to use this occasion to express gratitude to you, because our country has accumulated unique experience of using budgetary funds to finance this method of settling our people’s housing problems.

Vladimir Putin: I think no other country is doing this.

Darya Shuchalina: Yes, this is true.

A second nationwide programme is underway now for all regions.

First of all, I have a proposal for you. Mr President, we are asking you to consider the possibility of extending this programme. The current programme was launched in 2019 for five years. If possible, we suggest that its funding should not be reduced, because more houses are being identified as dangerous every year simultaneously with the relocation of people from dilapidated buildings. In other words, our housing stock is becoming dilapidated even despite major repairs. This is our proposal.

As for the question, I would like to ask your opinion of relocation conditions set by the federal centre for the regions. Do you think they are achieving the desired result? Will you tighten or simplify them? We would like to ask you to pay special attention to relations between relocated people and banks, because many people took out mortgages to buy flats in the houses that have been declared substandard, and it is not always possible for them to coordinate reduced lease payments with the banks or to find some other solution.

Vladimir Putin: Just a minute, what do mortgages have to do with this? What is the connection between relocation from dilapidated houses and mortgages?

Darya Shuchalina: Many people bought their housing with mortgage financing several years ago, and it has recently been declared substandard. This means that until the next programme is adopted, if it is adopted, they will have to continue making mortgage payments while living in dilapidated housing. They do not understand what to do with their flats, which cannot be sold, because they have to wait until the next relocation programme, and in the meantime, they will have to pay off their mortgages to the banks. Very many people are concerned about this detail.

A large-scale inspection of housing was held this year, because our municipal authorities have been inspired by the first two programmes. This took place not only in the Republic of Komi. I have talked with my colleagues in other regions, who said that all municipal authorities inspected their housing stock to identify substandard houses, mostly wooden ones. But they will not be included in the current programme, which only covers houses that were declared dilapidated prior to January 1, 2017.

Therefore, we are pinning our hopes on a new programme, which would include the houses that have been declared substandard this year. At the same time, we need to settle the problem of people with mortgage flats, which are their only housing.

Vladimir Putin: Indeed, our first programme focused on the housing that was recognised substandard until a particular time period, and then recognised as substandard prior to January 1, 2017. I have mentioned this many times before and I will say it again: we must get people out of this situation and out of the slums they are living in now.

Flats or houses that had been bought with a mortgage and were later recognised as dilapidated housing are a special case. This is about bad construction quality. We need to decide what to do with the builders, the construction oversight authorities, and so on. But, of course, we need to help people as well.

In this regard, the first question is about joint participation in this work and co-financing by the regions. I understand that the regions prefer to minimise their share of participation, this is understandable, and to have the federal budget assume the bulk of expenses. We need to look at this depending on the region and the financial circumstances of a particular region. In the grand scheme of things, people do not care much about relations between the Finance Ministry and the corresponding regional financial body. They need to have the problem solved. The state power, if it claims to be called such, must, first of all, be guided by this super goal which is to meet the people’s interests. Of course, we will be setting this mechanism up, bearing in mind that the regions’ financial capabilities are growing, and the regional budgets’ revenues are up significantly. The Finance Ministry has these numbers. So, our efforts will be grounded in the actual state of affairs.

Anyway, I will bring this to their attention. We are dealing with it all the time, believe me, we are watching it all the time and discuss it in the Government. Your question is a reason to revisit this issue. We will definitely discuss this issue and give it a thought.

It is necessary, of course, to look into the situation where people live in hazardous flats they have bought with a mortgage. I do not have an answer to that right now, but we will look for one. If this problem exists, we will look for an answer. Frankly, this is the first time I have heard this. I have always thought that dilapidated housing is about buildings dating back many years, to the 1950s, which are crumbling and people need to be relocated from these slums as soon as possible. However, if the problem exists, we will look into it.

The most important part of your question is whether these programmes will continue, that is, will housing be recognised as substandard after January 1, 2017, and will the appropriate fund be allocated? The answer is yes. A programme to this end is being drafted.

Dmitry Peskov: Mr President, Rossiya 24.

Vladimir Putin: Let us take Spas TV first.

Sorry, Rossiya 24 will go next. All right?

Dmitry Peskov: Rossiya 24 will go next.

Veronika Ivashchenko: Good afternoon.

My name is Veronika Ivashchenko, Spas TV channel.

Here is my question. Mr President, you started talking about demographics today, specifically, about large families.

The question is, we all know that demographics are the biggest unsolved problem with Russians. Why? Because at this point Russia no longer wants to have children. Living standards are going up, everything is fine, things are good outwardly, but for some reason, people decide against having children, and if we look at divorce statistics, we can see they have also forgotten how to build relationships.

What do you think the reasons are? These ailments, one might say, are not of economic, but of spiritual nature. This is something we used to be proud of, my great-grandparents had seven to ten children, I mean, in my family, we have always had many children and we have always respected the traditions of a strong family. What measures could be taken, apart from economic ones, such as the maternity capital and other benefits – what measures do you think could help change this situation? Thank you.

Vladimir Putin: You mentioned the Russian tradition of having large families. I can tell you that both my parents also come from large families, and their parents’ families had many children, nine to ten, both boys and girls. Incidentally, almost all of them – not all, but nearly all – perished during the Great Patriotic War. That was a huge tragedy and a crushing blow to our demographics.

As a reminder, Russia suffered one demographic gap in 1943–1944 and another in 1991, after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Why? Because the planning horizon narrowed dramatically, and oddly enough, in 1991, after the collapse of the USSR, people apparently had the same sentiment as during the Great Patriotic War. The family planning horizon narrowed to a few days, and this is what happened.

As for Russia no longer wanting to have children or not knowing how, we recorded far more births in 2004 and 2006 than in 1991, and later too, the birth rate began to grow. And, prosaic as this might sound, that had to do with an improvement of the economic situation and the expansion of the planning horizon.

Getting children on their feet is no easy business and quite a challenge from a financial standpoint. It is for this reason that in everything we do, including during the pandemic, we seek to support families with children. I already mentioned this at the beginning, and I would like to say it one more time. I will not repeat everything, because there is even more to it: our objective is to develop an entire motherhood and childhood support framework for accompanying children from the moment they are born right until they graduate from school. This must be done soon, next year and the following years.

We will enact the relevant support measures at every stage. They already exist, but there are certain age gaps. We will bridge them within the next 18 months. I do hope that this will play a positive role in terms of improving the demographic situation.

Of course, there are also delicate issues that lie far below the surface and are hard to understand at first sight. In fact, all post-industrial nations face the same demographic problem. Just look at Europe: it is the same everywhere. What is causing this? It is not that people are not interested, but they, including women of childbearing age, have other priorities: education, post-graduate education, careers, and only then kids, but by then they are already 30 years old. There is hardly any time left for the second child. This is a general trend, and quite a delicate issue. Demographers study this professionally and have been working on this subject their entire lives, but even they lack definitive and clear answers to these questions. This is how things stand, more or less.

As for the spiritual side of the question, you are right of course that careers and wellbeing are important, but we need to drive home the message that the happiness and the joy of fatherhood and motherhood are more important than the financial wellbeing you may enjoy today. We need to impress this on the people gradually and calmly, without imposing anything on anyone.

Let me reiterate that we must refrain from imposing anything on anyone, but we still need to give positive publicity to the idea of a large, friendly, good-spirited, and beautiful family, and show that happiness is about having children, in order to convince people that there is nothing in the world or in life that can bring more happiness. However, this requires a creative, talented approach that must also be eye-catching and sophisticated. This effort must include the mass media, artists and NGOs. We need to offer financial support to people who decide to have children. Let us all come together and move in this direction.

There is a young lady raising a poster with the word “Pain” on it. What happened?

Asya Gukasyan: Good afternoon,

Asya Gukasyan. Tivikom TV and Radio. Republic of Buryatia.

There is a very urgent issue in our region. Our infectious disease hospital is in a very bad shape. It is 80 years old and has undergone major repairs only once. It has only about 200 beds and now during the pandemic the problems have become even more pressing. This is why we decided to ask you for help. We need a new building. Both the Republic and municipal authorities are working on this problem and have already found a site for a new building but, unfortunately, construction is very expensive. Our Republic’s budget does not have such funds for this.

Vladimir Putin: This is Buryatia?

Asya Gukasyan: Yes, Buryatia.

Vladimir Putin: The money is, of course, there but it is always tempting to save it. Well, your bosses did the right thing by prompting you to ask this question. I promise you that I will certainly look into what can be done to resolve this issue. It is a very pressing one and is connected not just with the current pandemic but with potential future events.

In previous years, when everything was fine, we withdrew some funding from this sector of healthcare and many things were ruined. But I will certainly look into it and try to respond.

Thank you very much.

Asya Gukasyan: May I ask you one question? We had a big utility accident in Ulan-Ude, the capital of Buryatia, recently. You probably heard about it – a fire at a heat and power station. I can give the floor to my colleague with your permission. She would like to talk about this problem.

Vladimir Putin: In other words, you want to replace Mr Peskov? All right, go ahead, be the press secretary.

Bayarma Radnayeva: Sain baina, Mr President,

Sain baina, colleagues. Hello!

Vladimir Putin: Good afternoon!

Bayarma Radnayeva: My name is Bayarma Radnayeva, Buryad TV.

The problem is that we had a utility accident in Ulan-Ude at 3 am. There was a fire at a heat and power station and almost half the city’s population was left without hot water and heating. Now we are counting the losses. But we already know that major repairs are ahead, and it is likely that there will not be enough funds for that. The administration of our region is asking for help in resolving this problem.

And I have one more question. There was a recent discussion about Baikal becoming a special federal territory. We already have an example of the Tunka National Park where local residents have constant problems with legalizing their land and other issues with life-sustaining activities. Is there any news on the fate of Baikal? Will it become a federal territory? Will Baikal ‘move’ further away from the residents of Buryatia in this sense?

Thank you very much.

Vladimir Putin: As for the heat and power station, we will look into what is going on there. I promise you we will close this issue right now. After the news conference, I will find out what is happening there and what assistance is required. This is the first point.

As for Baikal, I have not even heard of it becoming a federal territory or that this is being discussed. I would like to emphasise that in any case it will not be less accessible to the people. If somebody has raised this idea (frankly, I am hearing about it for the first time) they are certainly referring to the allocation of additional funding, or a way to allocate funds to preserve Lake Baikal’s unique ecosystem. That’s it. The goal is to develop economic activity without interfering with anyone’s life and help people organise their life and work there.

I would like to emphasise that if those who live near Baikal have any doubts they should forget about them. They should have no apprehensions. There is only one reason to raise this issue – to help preserve the unique ecosystem of Lake Baikal and to assist the people who live there.

Let’s go to the back rows again. Mr Peskov, can you see anyone there?

Dmitry Peskov: I can. Raise the blue poster higher.

Go ahead.

Indira Asanova: Good afternoon, Mr President, colleagues.

Indira Begaydar, Kazakhstan TV channel.

Mr President, which items on the regional and international agendas will Russia prioritise in the near future in its dialogue with Kazakhstan?

As far as we know, this year you planned a visit to Kazakhstan, which did not take place due to the unfavourable epidemiological situation. Are you planning to visit our country next year?

Thank you.

Vladimir Putin: Here is what I would like to say. Kazakhstan is one of our closest allies. We have a unique relationship with Kazakhstan which was laid down by its First President Nursultan Nazarbayev, and the new President [Kassym-Jomart Tokayev], with whom I have very close and friendly relations, picked up these policies and maintains the quality of our relations.

Indeed, the pandemic prevented Kazakhstan from carrying out the planned activities, but I hope that the President of Kazakhstan and the First President of Kazakhstan will accept my invitation and come to St Petersburg next week for the traditional, informal meeting of the EAEU and CSTO member states. I am very much counting on this, and the leadership of Kazakhstan has preliminarily accepted the invitation.

Our cooperation focuses, primarily, on the economy. Relations with Kazakhstan in the economic sphere cover a variety of areas but changing the structure of our economic ties and focusing on high-tech areas are among our key goals. This includes, above all, digitalisation, and other important areas such as genetics and medicine, as well as joint space exploration since we continue and will continue to work together at Baikonur. There are many areas of focus between us.

Nevertheless, I agree with the way our Kazakhstani friends framed the question, namely that if we work together, Kazakhstan should be more than a platform for launching spacecraft, it should be involved in broader and more meaningful space exploration and develop its own competencies in this area. I share this approach, and we are now exploring options. I am confident that we will get to implementing these plans.

We have deep ties in culture and education. I am grateful to the leadership of Kazakhstan for their efforts to support and develop Russian language studies. You are aware that many people in Kazakhstan are studying Russian. This is a Russian-speaking country in the full sense of the word. The number of schools where children studying the Russian language and university branches that teach Russian, is on the rise, and the number of applicants applying for admission to these education institutions is quite high.

We cooperate with Kazakhstan as an active member of the CSTO as well. Notably, military equipment and materiel are supplied to Kazakhstan mostly at domestic Russian prices. And, the First President of Kazakhstan was the one to initiate the creation of the Eurasian Economic Union.

So, I very much hope that the pace we have gained and the quality of our work will be maintained.

Dmitry Peskov: If Buryatia gave me back my responsibilities for a short while …

Vladimir Putin: That’s not me, it is Buryatia that his given them back to you. You should thank them for it.

Dmitry Peskov: Thank you, Buryatia.

Now we have Rossiya 24.

Vladimir Putin: Rossiya 24, of course.

Anastasia Yefimova: Rossiya 24 is here.

Good afternoon, Mr President.

My question concerns the situation with RUSNANO. According to some experts, it is unfolding under a negative scenario, let me quote, “Little information, a lot of debt.” In fact, the company itself considers the debts to be exorbitant and talks about restructuring them.

Meanwhile, Fitch believes that the developments around RUSNANO is a kind of a test for the government referring to the loans issued to the company with state guarantees. Consequently, the state now must act on them. But will it back up such high-risk investments?

What would your answer to this question be? In other words, will the state somehow settle RUSNANO’s debts and, overall, what do you think about the company’s prospects?

Thank you.

Vladimir Putin: This is indeed a challenge. I will not quote the figures now – some say the debt amounts to 140 billion, others say 102 billion. These problems are assessed differently in terms of value by the Government and the company itself.

You know that the company’s new leadership has set to work. They have a free hand in conducting an objective evaluation and engaging the best experts to assess the real situation in the company. There is indeed a fairly big volume of guarantees provided by the Government of the Russian Federation for their projects.

I have to say that RUSNANO is actually a venture company. I will not hide that I was among the proponents of establishing this company. Back in the day I also pushed the Government and its finance and economy block towards funding the creation of our constellation of satellites and the GLONASS constellation. Otherwise, we would have been in zugzwang, like when satellites were being decommissioned after a protracted operation on the orbit due to their technical capabilities, and with the existing funding volumes we would never have created a fully operational constellation that would have allowed us to resolve the issues facing GLONASS. However, we did it. Our GLONASS appeared straight after GPS, before our Chinese friends launched BeiDou. And the company is operating and developing, albeit not without problems. The same is true of RUSNANO.

Obviously, they were largely blazing a trail. Clearly, some of the projects were fulfilled successfully whereas some of them, regretfully, could not be finished. Those are risky investments. This is why the state decided to provide its guarantees to ensure this work. But we have to look into the real state of affairs. The company, not the government, should work with its creditors, with the banks.

Sberbank, for instance, got rid of most loans; it sold them away. Sberbank’s top management probably had some insider information but they did it somehow.

The state guarantees, nevertheless, exist, and they must be enforced which does not mean the company should not work with banks or work to enhance and improve its economic performance.

By the way, as far as I know, the company recently satisfied some of its obligations, its securities, with its own funds. It means that overall the company is viable. It is just a process that should continue steadily in view of the economic situation and the projects and programmes which must certainly bring a profit because the company must operate in the market. We will definitely support the process.

Dmitry Peskov: We have so many regions represented here…

Vladimir Putin: There was a sign that said “Coal” over there. Can we? It is important.

Go ahead, please.

Alexandra Cherdantseva: Good afternoon, Mr President. Thank you for the opportunity to ask a question.

My name is Alexandra Cherdantseva, PolitSibRu news agency, Barnaul, Altai Territory.

I will not speak at length about the issue of coal, as you are perfectly aware of it. The Altai Territory, along with probably many other regions, faced problems when municipal authorities were unable to start the heating season on schedule, some due to fuel shortages, while others due to fuel price hikes. The municipal authorities have somehow overlooked this issue.

My question is not about assigning guilt; the question is what is to be done. What can federal authorities do to help the regions live under these new conditions, with new coal prices?

Thank you.

Vladimir Putin: I would very much like to hear from you more details about what is happening and where. Why? Because both regional and federal authorities reported to me recently that everyone is completely ready for the heating season.

Where did the failures occur, can you name the places?

Alexandra Cherdantseva: No, at present everyone is ready, the heating season is in progress. There was a period when municipalities claimed it was too expensive to buy coal. The heating season is under way, everything looks fine, but the prices remain high and the municipalities will have to find that money somewhere.

Vladimir Putin: Naturally. You see, we have subsidies for that.

By the way, you know, I will approach this issue from another angle. It was no accident that we introduced an amendment to the Constitution that all levels of public authority are a single system. And if municipalities lack something, it does not relieve the region’s authorities from responsibility; they must respond adequately. Regardless of the price hikes, the required volumes should have been provided for so as to start the heating season on schedule and go through its autumn-winter maximum.

Coal prices went up – that is all well and good, but purchase volumes and work with companies should have been addressed in proper time. I assure you that the companies which make good profits from exports and pay good wages to their workers, would certainly have arranged a proper pricing policy for the regions where their workers actually reside, provided they had been asked about it. So this is just an oversight – both by the municipalities and the region.

You do not want to name the exact municipalities. I do not mean to force you but will you please write to me, and I will figure out what happened there.

Alexandra Cherdantseva: At the regional level coal reserves are quite good, but the population faced this problem.

Vladimir Putin: That’s what I am asking – where exactly, which municipality?

Alexandra Cherdantseva: There were many complaints from Loktevksy District. People say buying coal is too costly and they just cannot afford it.

Vladimir Putin: There is a simple way out – subsidies. We provide subsidies including for the autumn-winter season. This should just be addressed in due time, that is all there is to it. There is nothing unusual or difficult about it.

Let me reiterate: in the run-up to the heating season all the regional and federal authorities reported that the country is ready for the start of the heating season.

Apparently, some failures are possible. I shall check how things are in different places. Agreed.

Alexandra Cherdantseva: Thank you.

Dmitry Peskov: Let’s ask the only person sitting without a banner. Introduce yourself, please.

Murad Gazdiev: Murad Gazdiev, RT.

My question is about system-wide problems in Western society that you spoke about recently. This is cancel culture, rejection of usual concepts like “mum,” “dad,” “family” and even “gender.” You might have heard that Joan Rowling also got her share when even Harry Porter actors ganged up on her because of her radical stance that a woman is a woman and a man is a man.

What do you think of the new ethic? Will this “caravan of values” arrive in Russia and will the state’s fighting for traditional values turn into a fight against youth subcultures and organisations, the way it was in the USSR?

Vladimir Putin: First, it is inevitable that the “caravan” will travel. It is inevitable in the contemporary world with the internet and modern communications. It is very much like the coronavirus pandemic. New strains keep popping up, and we can’t get away from it. What we need is to look for a proper antidote.

If someone thinks that a man and a woman is the same, let it be. However, there is still some common sense in the world.

I may be wrong although it is unlikely, Ms Sobchak asked a question about penitentiaries, I think in the US – and if I am wrong do not be annoyed with me, – a prisoner convicted of rape declared himself a woman and demanded that he be transferred to a women’s prison. So they did. And he promptly raped his female cellmate. But there should be some semblance of common sense in everything.

Or take athletes. A man declares himself a woman and competes, say, in weightlifting or some other sport. Women’s sport will cease to exist completely. There must be some common sense. I uphold the traditional approach that a woman is a woman, a man is a man, a mother is a mother, and a father is a father. I hope that our society has an inner moral protection dictated by the traditional faiths of the Russian Federation.

The strength and power of our thousand-year-old society lie in the fact that Russia was formed as a multi-ethnic and multi-faith state, and we have learnt to treat each other with respect. With respect. What does that mean? It means that we respect the foundations of our traditional spiritual culture. All the peoples of the Russian Federation – I want to stress “all” – have a certain inner moral protection against the obscurantism you mentioned. Let them do whatever they want over there. We must take the most progressive and the best which helps us develop, move on, be leaders in technology, in the economy, humanitarian areas – I mean healthcare or, say, education.

But I hope that our peoples, Russia’s ethnicities have enough deep immunity and protection systems against this obscurantism, as I said. And it should be countered not by direct instructions, slapdowns or accusations but rather by upholding our traditional values, which I always keep saying.

Dmitry Peskov: Let us move over here to make sure we do not leave the federal media out. Please give a microphone to Life.

Alexander Yunashev: Good afternoon, Mr President,

Alexander Yunashev, Life.

Let me follow up on the domestic agenda. Early on, you said that the Government is working satisfactorily. I would like to go person by person. Who among the ministers is your favourite, who got a bonus from you already? I wonder how much. Who got the most from you, and who did you give a dressing down to behind closed doors? We all saw you and Shoigu taking a break in the taiga. Why do you not take Mishustin with you? Why is that?

Thank you.

Vladimir Putin: If we take Mishustin along … Remember the old Jewish joke: “Who will stay in the shop?” Who will work?

So, once in a while Mr Mishustin goes on holiday as well. To everyone’s knowledge or not, each of us … In any case, the Prime Minister, who is vastly responsible for the situation in the country, calls me and tells me – as is customary – where he is going … He is always in touch.

As for the trips to Siberia, I have been doing this since the early 2000s. For me, this is a part of my life. I was asked about where I would like to live: St Petersburg or Moscow? I really like Siberia as well, with its unique ecosystem and unique people. Really. You know, Siberians with their values ​​and moral qualities are Russia’s gold fund. There are all sorts of people, but I am saying this in general.

As for who I criticise and who is a favourite … You see, I cannot have any favourites, and I never had any. I have been working with many people for many years and I know them well. But if I see that someone is either underperforming, or is trying to cut corners, I always point this out to my colleagues regardless of our personal relationship and push for a proper approach towards the issues that we are working on or discussing.

As for the bonuses, yes, I think that based on the results of the efforts to overcome the pandemic, some members of the Executive Office and the Government deserve a bonus. But here, I believe, the approach should not be differentiated, and we should rather assess the work of the Government overall. So, singling out people or giving big bonuses to some and punishing other people by paying them the proverbial five kopecks… I think that since this is a bonus, you need to evaluate the team work rather than the work of each individual, although this needs to be done, and, believe me, I do it.

However, as you understand, saying that this person is good and that one is bad is impossible and wrong, because it is not about who is good and who is bad, it is about how we manage this process and whether we succeed in making sure that everyone works effectively. And if we do not, including myself, it means that we are not doing enough.

Dmitry Peskov: Let us continue with a dash of foreign media. I see Rai, our colleagues from Italy. Please go ahead.

Sergio Paini: Thank you.

Sergio Paini, Rai, Italian television.

Good afternoon, Mr President.

How much change has the Russia-Italy relationship undergone with Prime Minister Mario Draghi in office? Do you think Italy can act as a mediator in Russia’s relations with the European Union?

Vladimir Putin: As far as I can tell, if not exemplary, Italy-Russia relations are good and stable, and transcend partisanship.

Regardless of the forces that are currently at the helm in Italy, the Italian Republic and its Government, we are following in the tracks of what was laid down by Mr Berlusconi, who initiated stronger relations between Russia and NATO, among other things. He came up with a number of long-term projects, including, by the way, in the sphere of small and medium-sized businesses.

All of that continues regardless of the political forces that, at any given point, find themselves at the top of political power. I believe that this supra-partisan nationwide consensus is key in Italy-Russia relations. Of course, Italy is a NATO country and an EU member, but this does not keep us from working in the way I just mentioned. I hope that it will remain like that as we go forward.

Mr Draghi and I have spoken on the telephone several times. We communicate in a very friendly and meaningful manner on a number of issues that are of interest to the Italian Republic in terms of expanding our economic ties. Bearing in mind our good and friendly relations, Italy could play its role in normalising Russia-EU relations even as part of the Russia-NATO talks that are being planned.

Dmitry Peskov: Thank you.

I see a small poster with the letters SMA. It means spinal muscular atrophy, right?

Vladimir Putin: Mr Peskov, I saw someone holding a heart. Maybe they will say something nice?

Dmitry Peskov: We will get back to you. Thank you.

Please raise the heart up.

Vladimir Putin: Please, you have the floor.

Gulnuz Khaibullina: Mr President, I came from the Republic of Bashkortostan. My name is Gulnuz Khaibullina.

Mr President, we love our city, the capital of the Republic of Bashkortostan. You recently signed an executive order on holding events to mark the 450th anniversary of our city. We would like to know what support the federal centre will provide for the development of our city. Everybody knows that when celebrating a birthday, we dress up. So we want to celebrate this date on a grand scale. But I am not speaking about round dances and concerts, given the pandemic. We would like to have new social facilities, good roads and many beautiful buildings. So we want to know what support we will receive from the federal centre. As the President, what surprise will you prepare for us, and will you come visit?

Vladimir Putin: Thank you so much for the invitation. I will try to come.

Ufa is a wonderful place, one of the best cities in the Volga region. Ufa has been one of the centres of the Islamic world in Russia.

As for anniversaries, it was no accident that my colleagues and I developed the relevant document. During the preparations, we will set the priorities together with the leadership of the republic.

I would like to get back to what your colleague said, the issue related to large families. We do not need to allocate additional resources here; we need to use those resources that have been set aside for the development of infrastructure, roads, the social sphere and culture. They need to be distributed properly, or even redistributed, to a certain extent, so that Ufa can prepare for the anniversary the way it deserves.

We could think about additional funding. We will make a decision together with our colleagues from the republic.

Gulnuz Khaibullina: Zur rakhmat [thank you], Mr President.

Can I suggest one more thing? How about holding the world hockey championships in Ufa? We are famous for our Salavat Yulayev club and would be happy to host such an event.

Vladimir Putin: Salavat Yulayev is a great hockey team, no doubt about it, a top-notch team.

As for the championships, I am not ready to answer this question yet. I believe the next world event will be held in St Petersburg, and they have been already getting the relevant facilities ready. But it is not only up to us, but the International Ice Hockey Federation. St Petersburg is quite far from Ufa. I am not sure it would be possible in terms of logistics.

But Ufa can undoubtedly hold international competitions at the highest level. We will think about this suggestion. Thank you.

Dmitry Peskov: Shall we give the floor to SMA? Spinal muscular atrophy is an important issue.

Vladimir Putin: Yes, please. I agree.

Dmitry Peskov: Introduce yourself.

Albert Musin: Good afternoon.

Albert Musin, Channel 4, television, Yekaterinburg.

In fact, there are two issues. SMA is the second. The first one with which we originally planned to come to Moscow is about supporting the Universiade, or rather, a request to make sure that the 2023 Universiade, which is supposed to be held in Yekaterinburg, actually takes place. We even brought you a ball signed by prominent athletes from the Sverdlovsk Region, including fighters, gymnasts and racers, in a word, everyone. Regrettably, the security guards did not let it through, such are the rules. But I hope it will find its way to you.

Vladimir Putin: Now that you said it, it certainly will.

Albert Musin: That is exactly why I mentioned it.

SMA is my second issue, because something important happened in early December. Zolgensma, the so-called golden jab that costs more than 100 million rubles, was finally registered in Russia.

Here is a brief overview for our colleagues. Spinal muscular atrophy is a genetic disease that creates critical developmental disorders in children who die before they reach the age of 2 or 3 years. Now that Zolgensma has been registered, many families with children affected by SMA have a chance to receive support from the Government. However, they do not understand how it will be organised. Either it will be done through the Circle of Kindness Foundation, which was set up earlier this year and also helps raise money for children affected by SMA.

So, I would like to ask you to have a clear arrangement worked out so that the parents of these children who have months, rarely years, left, know where to apply and how to get this help, and, in general, whether all these children will have the chance to get a life-saving injection. There are more than a hundred children with SMA in Russia, with 33 of them residing in our region.

Thank you.

Vladimir Putin: First of all, it was to help more such people, such children that the Circle of Kindness Foundation was established.

You probably remember, yet I would like to remind everyone, and those who do not know should be told this, that the source of funding for this is the increased personal income tax levied on those who, let us put it this way, who earn slightly or considerably more than the country’s average. The tax on their windfall profits has been increased, and we said at the very beginning that these funds would be used to support people with severe life-threatening diseases, including spinal muscular atrophy. Before that, support from budgets at different levels was only provided to 74 people across the country, but the current figure is above 100 and, as far as I know, is approaching 1,000. I am not sure about the precise figure, but this is not the point. What is important is that the number of people who receive such support has increased severalfold. The treatment is very expensive.

I can tell you frankly that I discussed this matter with our colleagues only yesterday. They believe that since the very first days after the foundation’s establishment – I will not go into detail now about organisational or decision-making issues, because we did not want, and I did not want this either, this project to be assigned to state agencies. We wanted it to be implemented by absolutely independent people who are respected in society. So, I was told yesterday that the project is running smoothly. Information should be available on the Public Services portal, and it can also be provided by the relevant medical staff in the regions. This is not the point. These technicalities can be easily dealt with, and I believe that you, Albert, as a person who is involved in this matter and feels for these families and these children, I believe that you and people like you can help them find their bearings in this situation.

What does matter now is the age of support recipients. As of now, it is available to people aged up to 18, but we hope that the use of this treatment and other medicines that will certainly be invented in future will help to extend the life span and improve the quality of life for people with this and similar diseases. We must start thinking already about how to help people with these diseases after they turn 18, because so far, the project is only designed for people aged up to 18. But we are considering the matter, and we will certainly not forget about this problem.

Alexander Fedorchak: Good afternoon, Mr President.

Alexander Fedorchak, Krym 24 television channel.

Thank you for the opportunity to ask a question.

On behalf of our republic, I would like to thank you for the ongoing transformations. Our infrastructure has changed a lot over the past seven years, with roads, kindergartens, and so on under construction.

Regrettably, however, mobile communications have remained where they were, and major Russian telecom operators have so far been unable to do business in Crimea. How can this matter be resolved at the government level? Can we expect major telecom operators to come to Crimea any time soon?

Thank you.

Vladimir Putin: Clearly, this is because of the sanctions that our Western partners have imposed on Crimea and its residents.

As I mentioned earlier, the situation is quite odd. If someone believes that Crimea is occupied, then its residents are victims of aggression. Why punish them even more then? And if they joined Russia, and returned to Russia of their own volition by way of a referendum, then it is a manifestation of democracy. Is it that someone out there is fighting democracy? No answer. There may be only one answer: they spit on the interests of the Crimeans, Russia and democracy. All they are doing is addressing their geopolitical issues.

However, being aware of this, we must respond accordingly, and we will continue to do so, just as before. Perhaps, not completely, but I am sure we will resolve issues with water supply, just as we have resolved the issue of energy supply and power supply, in general, the development of infrastructure, not just the Tavrida Motorway. I asked the Government to plan for exits from this motorway to the coast, and I know they have been planned and exits to the coast will be built.

We will certainly engage in expanding urban infrastructure, including in off-the-coast cities of Crimea. Just like you said, we will continue to build hospitals, kindergartens and schools, and we will renovate housing, including structurally unsafe buildings.

By the way, Crimea and Sevastopol joined the programme for housing renovation and relocation from structurally deficient buildings later, so they are lagging a little behind. Crimea and Sevastopol are a little behind this programme, but we will definitely address, on a systematic basis, every problem that Crimea is facing, including relocating residents of dilapidated buildings.

With regard to mobile communications, just like in other matters, we will find ways to ensure the people’s interests. I will not get ahead of things and will not share our plans with you and everyone in this audience so as not to hinder the process. But we will think it over and hopefully overcome this challenge.

There are also issues with individual incomes and high prices – I am aware of that – and we will gradually resolve them. Gradually, but surely. I hope that the people in Crimea and Sevastopol feel it already today and will feel it tomorrow.

Dmitry Peskov: We have not had any questions on sports so far, but I do recognise Dmitry Guberniyev.

Vladimir Putin: Go ahead, Dmitry.

Dmitry Peskov: You have a sports-related question, right?

Dmitry Guberniyev: Good afternoon. How did you guess?

First, I would like to wish you all a happy New Year, and wish you good health, luck and patience, which we really need. Just remember: our athletes will defeat them all.

It is so tempting for me to ask a question on biathlon, a sports discipline that unites us all. If practice is any guide, we will fight for medals in every race, including at the Olympics. My question, Mr President, is about the Olympics, where you will travel to attend the opening ceremony in Beijing.

However, considering the political boycott many leaders already announced, including the President of the United States, why is this happening, in your opinion? China and people heading there to compete in a fair and clean way are being pressured. Doesn’t this remind you of what was going on ahead of the Sochi Olympics?

Thank you very much.

Vladimir Putin: This is an unacceptable decision, a mistake. I had this conversation with one of the former Presidents of the United States – you can go ahead and guess who that was. That was quite a while ago. He told me that the boycotts of the Olympics in Los Angeles and in Moscow were big mistakes, including on behalf of the United States.

The United States just keeps making the same mistake. Where does this diplomatic and political boycott of China come from? From attempts to contain the development of the People’s Republic of China. There are no other reasons whatsoever.

Just like art, sports must bring people together instead of causing problems in people-to-people and state-to-state relations. When sport is unable to live up to its core values, this hurts the entire international community. In fact, this shatters the last remaining scarce opportunities to restore, maintain and develop relations between nations, and this is being done for the sake of momentary political gain. This is a mistake.

That said, what can we do about this? Everyone makes mistakes. However, some keep making them. There is only one reason for this, which also applies, for example, to Russia. There are no other reasons, trust me. This is not about the surname of the country’s leader, or any current issues or challenges. There is only one reason for this. This is an attempt to contain development and deprive someone of the opportunity to rise above the possible competitors.

I have already talked about the situation with NATO’s eastward expansion. Why did they have to do this? Take, for instance, Egon Bahr. He was a politician from the Social Democratic Party of Germany and proposed building a new security architecture in Europe after the Soviet troops left Germany and Eastern Europe: keeping NATO without expanding it to Central and Eastern European countries, and creating a new system of equal security with Canada, the United States and Russia. According to the archival documents on his talks with the Soviet leaders, including Falin and others, otherwise the virtual Berlin wall will keep moving east, leaving us with the same problems. This is precisely what happened. Why? This was an attempt at containment. However, this is an erroneous policy, just like the attempt to use sports for momentary political gain.

There is no way they can contain China’s development. Eventually this will dawn on them. No way they can contain China. Today, China has a bigger economy than the United States in terms of purchasing power parity. As years go by – 2035, then 2050 – China will inevitably emerge as the world’s number one economy in terms of all other indicators as well. We need to understand this. Who knows? Maybe they do understand this, but are still acting this way. But this is a mistake.

As for us, we always have stood against using sport for political aims.

Dmitry Peskov: I saw the Far East Federal District there, am I right? Go ahead.

Irina Trofimova: Good afternoon, Mr President.

We are always glad to see you in Vladivostok.

Vladimir Putin: Thank you. And I am always glad to come to Vladivostok, especially after it hosted the well-known international events of APEC, and after Vladivostok’s revival and transformation began. I hope that everybody who lives in the Far East can feel and see it. Still, a lot has to be done.

So, your question, please.

Irina Trofimova: This is true, the transformations are tremendous, of course.

However, I wanted to ask you about the following. My first poster reads: “One-room flat for eight million.” It does not mean that I want to sell it. The thing is that housing prices in the Far East have reached unprecedented highs. Given that we have a good level of construction, we are building a lot of housing, more and more rapidly, and many problems are being solved. Meanwhile, the price of a one-room apartment has reached eight, nine, ten and even 12 million rubles. It means that we are practically approaching Moscow prices.

It has been greatly influenced by the Far East mortgage loans, which were a lifeline to many people, but it has had a major impact on the price increase. It is a real problem for the Primorye Territory. We are now among the top three regions for population outflow, the top three regions. That is, people are fleeing from the Far East.

Mr President, something has to be done about it. A special mechanism to restrain housing prices is needed; otherwise Primorye, for instance, will find itself without young people.

Vladimir Putin: Indeed, Irina, we have established an entire line of support measures for housing construction. Two-percent interest for the Primorye Territory and the Far East. Three percent for agricultural mortgage loans, and six percent for families with children. We have also extended the concessionary mortgage loan at a seven percent rate for another year.

Of course, having a certain level of construction technology, although it is constantly growing, and building materials production, that is supply, it all affects the prices. However, high prices are not the only thing that matters. We have introduced the two-percent rate to make them lower and, in general, that worked. Depopulation happens not only because of rising housing prices. Of course, we are thinking about it, and for the country as a whole, because cheap mortgage loans lead to a price rise. Still, we built 90 million square metres. The positive effect is evident. The number of families improving their living conditions has been increasing many times over. It also concerns the construction of single-family homes. The present support is not enough, but we will push it further.

The Far East has special needs that require a comprehensive approach. The goal is not only to put an end to depopulation, but, on the contrary, to make life there attractive in today’s conditions. What do we need to do for that? Primarily, we need to develop the economy and create new modern, high-tech, interesting and high-paying jobs so that work becomes interesting. This is my first point.

Second, we must develop the social sphere, strengthen the university on Russky Island, and other education institutions, as well as build schools and kindergartens to make life there comfortable. We have drafted an extensive programme for this, including the creation of priority development areas, the provision of low-cost lending, and so on.

Entire clusters are being built towards this end. As you know, there is Zvezda plant not far from Vladivostok which is an unprecedentedly large shipbuilding company that even the Soviet Union did not have. One of the largest dry docks has been built there. Now, we can – if necessary, of course – build large naval warships there, but we can also build, and we are already building, special-purpose civilian vessels for servicing offshore areas, working at sea, etc. This is all happening. Did you know that people from European Russia go to work there? Why? Because it is an interesting job, salaries are good. These jobs are for people with high skills.

This is the way to go in all other areas in the Far East, including further strengthening and creating the town of Tsiolkovsky and a new spaceport for civilian purposes. The automotive industry must be developed there, and not just large-scale assembly, but also on our own base, which is also happening.

In general, we need to work in all these directions, and then life there will become attractive. There are plans in place; these are long-term projects. Still, work is underway and the situation is improving. If something needs to be done additionally, and if you have specific proposals, go ahead and draft them, and then send them to us. We will be happy to review and study them, okay?

Thank you very much.

Dmitry Peskov: Mr President, we are working on this…

Vladimir Putin: I think everyone must be bored, so it is time to end. Let’s do the following: one question each from this side, the centre and the other side.

Dmitry Peskov: Let’s do that. Dagestan.


Magomed Magomedov: Good afternoon, Mr President. Magomed Magomedov, Dagestan republican news agency.

During a meeting with you, the head of our republic, [Sergei Melikov], invited you to Dagestan for the Year of Rasul Gamzatov and the poet’s birth anniversary, which we will be celebrating soon.

The republic is now facing an energy crisis in nearly all spheres: in water, in electricity and in gas supplies. The problems have been accumulating for decades; they did not appeared out of nowhere. We can see that you, the head of our republic and the Federal Assembly are aware of this problem, but no solution has been found so far because it is mostly connected with the commercial organisations that are working in the republic.

Mr President, we need your help. In 1999, Dagestan was an important part of and played a major role in Russia’ modern history. Today people in our republic need your influence more than ever, so that the officials at different energy companies, but primarily those that are subordinate to Rosseti, Gazprom and RusHydro, focus their attention on the problem and not just collect dividends in the republic but also invest in the infrastructure, so that people can live a befitting, high quality life in the republic.

I would like to once again invite you to the Republic of Dagestan in the commemoration Year of Rasul Gamzatov. We know about your attitude towards Dagestan, and you know that Dagestan loves you.

Thank you.

Vladimir Putin: Just a second, Magomed. I would like you to be more specific about the energy problems you are facing.

Magomed Magomedov: Mr President, this is what I can tell you. The trouble is that our energy infrastructure is either worn out or unable to keep pace with the increasing demand.

Of course, the regional authorities are implementing a number of projects, but they cannot do everything that needs to be done, while the people believe that the commercial organisations that are working in the republic are not fully aware of the problem. System operations depend on them much more.

The vertical power system means that these organisations are controlled from the federal centre rather than in the republic, and we have no mechanisms to influence them.

This is the problem.

Vladimir Putin: Which companies? Just name them.

Magomed Magomedov: Electricity supply companies.

Vladimir Putin: Grid companies?

Magomed Magomedov: Yes, grid companies.

Vladimir Putin: Rosseti?

Magomed Magomedov: Most likely the companies subordinate to Rosseti. I am not sure.

Vladimir Putin: Alright, I will look into the matter. Anything else?

Magomed Magomedov: Moving on, some water utilities are owned by private Russian companies, and are probably also part of RusHydro.

Natural gas distribution to villages is another major challenge.

Thank you.

Vladimir Putin: I will definitely look into this, you have my word on it.

As for Rosseti, they probably have their divisions there.

On the question of water supply, we need to investigate this and the way the regional government organised all this. It is the regional government that oversees water distribution and wastewater disposal, or this function is assigned to a private operator. We need to get to the bottom of this. The same applies to RusHydro. We must examine this.

I cannot answer each of the questions you have raised right now, but I do have a very clear understanding of what this is all about. We will look into it. Is that okay with you?

Magomed Magomedov: Thank you, Mr President.

Vladimir Putin: Please convey my best wishes on the upcoming New Year. In fact, Dagestan has a very special place in my heart.

You can see that working in Dagestan promotes the careers of its leaders to new heights. For example, Mr Vasilyev became the head of United Russia’s parliamentary group in the State Duma.

Magomed Magomedov: Mr President, we feel your attention, and that you are always there for us, for which both the journalists and the people of Dagestan are grateful. Happy New Year!

Vladimir Putin: Thank you so much. All the best to you too.

Let’s turn to the middle of the room. I see a young lady in green.

Yes, go ahead please.

Yuliya Izmailova: Good afternoon.

Yuliya Izmailova, Editor-in-Chief of Molodoi Leninets newspaper, Penza.

Vladimir Putin: Penza, you said?

Yuliya Izmailova: The city of Penza.

Mr President, next year pensions are expected to be adjusted for inflation at the rate of 5.9 percent, which is significantly lower than the actual inflation rate. In fact, prices are growing at a much faster pace. Do you have any plans to offset the difference for retirees? Under the law, pension increases must correspond to the rate of inflation. Thank you.

Vladimir Putin: Yes, I fully agree with you, and we must not forget this. The Government of the Russian Federation must do everything it can to deliver on the promises it made over the past years. Until now, we have been able to do this, in general, and we will definitely do it now. This is the first thing I want to say.

Second, for reference, please note that next year we will take the corresponding decisions on law enforcement and defence agencies to provide for a more even income distribution to people working in law enforcement and defence agencies. This also must apply to military pensions.

Dmitry Peskov: Let’s give the floor to Public Television of Russia (ORT).

Vladimir Putin: Yes, go ahead, please.

Olga Arslanova: Good afternoon, Mr President.

I am Olga Arslanova, Public Television of Russia.

My question is prompted by our viewers that call us live. We know that large cities are carrying out serious and expensive infrastructure projects. Meanwhile, the countryside remains archaic in our country even in the 21st century. It lacks the simplest things. It happens that schoolchildren go by bus to a neighbouring village 20 km away because their school at home is in critical condition. It happens that buses do not run because the road has fallen apart. Sometimes, the situation becomes ridiculous. There is no toilet or water in a village, but it has internet installed. Is the state going to implement infrastructure projects in rural areas instead of just filling some gaps?

Thank you very much.

Vladimir Putin: Most certainly. First, this is being done under a relevant programme for the social development of the countryside, which will receive the required funds. This is the first point.

Second, the projects, including the national projects I have already mentioned today are largely oriented to focus primarily on rural areas. Our villages have been doing really well in the past few years. This should certainly have an impact on the social wellbeing and social attitudes of the people that are giving us this level of production and confidence in providing the country with the necessary set of basic food products.

Thus, I think we have already mentioned the programme for renovating existing schools and building new ones. These programmes will be primarily implemented in rural areas. This is what I requested and what will be done.

As for the internet, there is a reason you said it is installed in rural areas whereas some basic amenities are missing. Of course, it is possible and necessary to think about basic amenities, but it is also important to have the internet up and running. It enables rural residents to get an up-to-date education and use many services online even in remote areas and small communities. As for small communities, additional funds are set aside for this purpose. In general, this is, of course, a big comprehensive goal that requires, in part, the development of infrastructure. A significant part of the funds planned for infrastructure development will be spent on the development of rural areas.

And now the final question. Mr Peskov, let’s have the final question.

Dmitry Peskov: Alright. Valery Sanfirov, another veteran of the presidential pool.

Valery Sanfirov: Mr President, just a small clarification. There was a quiz about a president who said that boycotting Olympic Games was wrong. Was it Trump?

Vladimir Putin: No.

Valery Sanfirov: I see. It must have been George Bush Sr.

Vladimir Putin: Precisely.

Valery Sanfirov: Very good.

My question concerns next year, 2022. It does not seem to promise anything good, which means that it will be quite dull. You will continue to keep everyone wondering if you will run for one more term in 2024. The pandemic will most likely continue, and there will be some restrictions again. The WHO will likely find another reason for refusing to recognise Sputnik V. And our Olympic team will again perform without the national flag and anthem.

In this connection, what do you think can bring us real optimism and happiness next year, not just flashes of it, as a famous writer and you have said? Thank you.

Vladimir Putin: Once again, what will next year bring?

Valery Sanfirov: What will bring us real happiness and optimism next year, not just flashes of it?

Vladimir Putin: Happiness and optimism? Carrying out our plans, what else? This is the essence of our work – to make life better for people.

As for possible political, domestic political events, such as elections, I do not believe that this is what we should think about. A girl, your colleague, asked about serving pensioners’ interests. This is what we should think about. The inflation rate has increased. Can we bring it down? And how can we adjust pensioners’ incomes? Yes, they are increasing, but we must ensure that they keep pace with the inflation rate, like we promised.

This is what all of us must aim for, all levels of authority – the federal, regional and municipal authorities must think about increasing living standards and improving the quality of life for the people. We have ambitious plans, and huge funds are allocated for implementation, and we must use them effectively, so that people can see that life is changing for the better. Happiness or not but this is what we must do.

I will encourage the national authorities to work in this spirit so as to attain our goals and fulfil these tasks in the interests of Russian citizens.

The final question must come from a woman. Let’s give the mic to a young lady.

Dmitry Peskov: Mr President, do you see anyone yourself?

Vladimir Putin: No.

Dmitry Peskov: Maybe Rossiya-Kultura?

Vladimir Putin: Go ahead.

Yana Muzyka: Good afternoon. Yana Muzyka, Rossiya-Kultura television.

Mr President, there are more and more administrative and even criminal cases related to promoting extremism and accusations that someone’s feelings were insulted. Creative professionals from the theatre, film or book industries can easily face charges, and even more so ordinary people for simply posting an image online. I wanted to ask about the line between protecting someone’s feelings, moral standards, and the right of an artist to enjoy the freedom of artistic expression. Where should we draw this line?

Vladimir Putin: You mentioned posting photos and artistic rights. Can uploading an image of Hitler or Himmler to the Immortal Regiment’s website be seen as creative freedom?

Let’s consider this issue from that perspective. Of course, we need to ensure artistic freedoms, and freedom in general. After all, without it there is no progress, no doubt about that. The future would be quite grim, bleak and without any promise. Still, we need to understand that this freedom can defy its own purpose when it runs into the freedom of another person.

You represent a media outlet, for example, and quite a respected one. Kultura is a very good channel. But why offend the Prophet Muhammad? Is this an act of artistic freedom? I do not think so. This is a violation of the freedom of worship, which offends the rights of the people who practice Islam, which leads to other, even more radical and extremist manifestations. Take, for example, Charlie Hebdo – they went to Paris and killed an entire editorial staff. We must make sure this does not go that far, right? This freedom needs to come from within and be rooted in respecting all those who might be affected by any extreme actions.

I have said that Russia emerged as a diverse state from an ethnic and religious perspectives, so we have grown used to respecting each other’s interests and traditions. This gives Russia a very solid foundation as an ethnically diverse state. We can see that other countries lack this culture of dialogue. So why import this deficiency onto our territory, and into our society? This would be like compromising one’s immunity.

However, this must be a question of self-regulated restrictions. For example, the heads and owners of Russia’s major social networks came together, established an organisation, and devised their own rules on how to operate in a way that does not hurt people, harm teenagers, kids, etc. This is the way forward, in my opinion.

And the final question, please. Go ahead.

Zokhra Ishmukhametova: Mr President, good afternoon.

Vladimir Putin: Good afternoon.

Zokhra Ishmukhametova: Zokhra Ishmukhametova, Sputnik news agency.

A question about Afghanistan. On August 15, we all watched as the Taliban took over in Afghanistan after President Ashraf Ghani, now the ex-president, fled. The question is, does Russia recognise the Taliban government? What is the outlook for Russian-Afghan relations?

Vladimir Putin: I would like the relations between Russia and Afghanistan to develop in the best possible way. I am referring to our mutual interests in stabilising the region. For us, this is not idle talk, since we have open borders with the Central Asian republics, the former members of the Soviet Union, and naturally, the possibility of extremist infiltration raises understandable concerns. Among other things, there is the continuing flow of drugs from Afghanistan; some 90 percent of the opiates on the global market are Afghan-made. This is another alarming factor, of course.

As for recognising it, generally, we need to proceed from reality, assuming that the forces that now lead Afghanistan are setting their minds on having all ethnic groups represented in the country’s government. I think this is the only alternative that can, hopefully, pave the way for stabilisation in Afghanistan.

What do we need to do now? We definitely need to help the Afghan people. This should primarily be done by those countries that have caused such enormous damage, such harm to the Afghan economy and Afghan society. Those who have been there for 20 years, have destroyed the local economy – they must be the first to provide assistance.

For our part, we will do everything that depends on us. But the first thing to do here is to unfreeze Afghanistan’s assets, the money it had in foreign, primarily American, banks, in order to provide the required assistance to the Afghan people. Otherwise, the country could plunge into famine; there will be grave consequences that will affect the neighbouring states as well.

As for recognition, we are working collectively with all parties in international communication. We have our own position, and I have explained it clearly enough just now. But we will strive to achieve a consolidated approach.

Is that it?

Dmitry Peskov: Maybe, we will listen to one more woman? In the middle, the woman in red. Ms Sobchak, that’s not you; you have already done your part.

Ilona Ozerova: Good afternoon,

Ilona Ozerova from Avtoradio.

Finally, I would like to ask you a personal question related to the pandemic.

First, do you feel that you are short of personal communication? Maybe, you feel the lack of emotions and impressions. You said you are talking to your subordinates at a distance of three metres. Is it worth talking without an-eye-to-eye contact? Or maybe videoconference is a more advanced means of communication, sometimes even more effective and, in any case, quicker?

And a second question.

Vladimir Putin: Just a second, let me answer the first one.

A distance of three metres does not matter. We are at a greater distance now, but we can freely talk with each other. And when my colleague sits next to me, there it makes no difference at all. Plus, there is communication via modern channels. In general, those in charge of communication have done a good job.

But, of course, I miss communication with my family, my friends and colleagues, those I need to meet with and sit next to. I think this affects me like anyone.

Ilona Ozerova: And one more question about exercise. Are you managing to exercise during the pandemic? Are there any changes in your routine? If so, what are they?

And the last question – about your leisure time. Again, the pandemic continues and you have a busy personal schedule. Do you ever have time to follow new theatre plays or cinema premiers? Do you follow the posts of any bloggers? Do you sometimes watch television dramas that are in the news?

Vladimir Putin: Frankly, I do not follow bloggers. I have long stopped watching anyone since I quit my job as the Director of the Federal Security Service.

As for sports and leisure, I have almost no leisure time, but I do get some exercise because I consider it my duty. I must be in good shape because otherwise it is difficult to work with my busy schedule, fulfilling the instructions of the Russian people.

Happy New Year to all of you! I wish you all the best!