QUESTION: Vladimir Vladimirovich, over these last six years you have answered 300 questions during around 18 hours of live broadcasts. The summing up process seemed very brief. Were there any questions that have had an influence on fundamental decisions or positions taken?
PRESIDENT VLADIMIR PUTIN: As I said during the live broadcast, the questions reflect a good cross section of the publicís views on this or that issue. This kind of event provides a unique sort of public opinion survey on what people think of the authoritiesí work in this or that area. Of course, when people repeatedly raise particular issues, this is a signal for all of us, the Government, and myself, as head of state, to react. Today, for example, we saw the indignation of military pensioners at the fact that they have not been compensated for payments they should have received following the indexation of servicemenís wages in 1995-1998. In accordance with the laws in force at that time, military pensions should also have been indexed immediately, but this was not done. People have been waiting for compensation, but despite numerous instructions to the Government they are still waiting to this day.
QUESTION: Does this apply to ration in kind payments too?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: No, this is about increasing the pensions paid to retired military servicemen following the indexation of servicemenís wages. As you heard, I have simply decided to ensure this is carried out through presidential decree.
QUESTION: When did you take this decision?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: I am familiar with this matter in general. When I looked over the questions that were being sent in I saw that this issue came up again and again. This issue came up last year and it was raised again this year, and so I made this decision just before the broadcast took place.
QUESTION: Could I ask for some clarification regarding ďPutinís PlanĒ? I am a historian by training and it is more in this capacity than as a journalist that I ask this question. Does ďPutinís PlanĒ foresee a stage when different areas of activity Ė the economy, politics, the media Ė will have a large degree of autonomy and there will no longer be any need to regulate them so closely? I realise that reform is not a simple process that some administrative resources are necessary in this respect, but, does this plan outline a year or period by which the different mechanisms in place in Russia would act autonomously? And one more thing: donít you fear that the elite in power will not want to loosen their grip on the regulation levers when the time comes and that they could cause obstruction and try to prevent the system going from manual to automatic, to use an analogy from the motoring world?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: Letís recall what I mentioned in my Address to the Federal Assembly last year, namely, that back when the United States was emerging from the Great Depression a lot was done through this manual regime. At that time, Roosevelt drew up a whole plan for the countryís medium-term development, and, as you noted, there too, not all of the elite agreed with the Presidentís proposals, but this planís implementation ultimately benefited everyone in the country, both the elite and the general public. Its success lay in the fact that it managed to stabilise the situation and create the conditions for sustainable economic and social development. This ultimately enabled the United States to take the place it holds in the world economy, and in global politics, today. In this respect then we are not doing anything unique.
We are emerging from a serious systemic crisis, and are thus forced to do a lot in manual regime. You ask when the main components will function automatically? Once these plans are implemented, once we have laid the necessary legal foundation and put in place the legal mechanisms, and once all the elements of a market economy are functioning in full.
One of the questions I noticed going by on the screen, for example, was when will our currency be freely convertible? It is already freely convertible. The issue is now one of when other countries will notice this, realise this, and when they will have sufficient confidence in our currency to begin using it, perhaps, as a global reserve currency.
This takes time and it also takes deliberate steps to diversify and strengthen our economy. The growth of the middle class in Russia will certainly stabilise the political system and social life, but all of this takes time. Once we have a more consolidated and stable legal, economic and social foundation there will be no need for the manual regime. At the same time, even in the developed economies today a lot still depends on the decisions taken by the countryís political leadership and the choices the government or president make, thus in one way or another an element of the manual regime is still present.
QUESTION: What time frame are we looking at?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: I think 15-20 years.
QUESTION: Vladimir Vladimirovich, you have received more than 2 million questions. This means that the public thinks this kind of chance to speak with you is important, necessary and interesting. Do you think that these kinds of events will continue?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: This will depend on the new head of state. The future President might prefer some other form of direct dialogue with the public. There are various possibilities in this respect and I would not be so bold as to state which form of direct discussion with the public will be chosen. I think that there is indeed a need for this kind of dialogue, but I cannot say now what form it will take.
QUESTION: Vladimir Vladimirovich, the current political system took shape at a difficult time and with a certain amount of haste. Now we have entered a quieter and more prosperous period. Is it not perhaps time to review some functions and powers, above all in the executive branch of power? In Germany, for example, there is an efficiently functioning executive branch in the form of the government, while Russia historically has two functioning centres of leadership. Or do you think that we should keep to the status-quo, keep the situation as it is now?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: I have to give you your due for the inventive way you have put this question, which obviously interests many people, and which really comes down to what I am going to do and what will be the distribution of powers between the government and the president.
We donít have two centres, we have one decision-making centre Ė the president, and the parliament, of course. As for the government, under the provisions of the Constitution it is the executive branchís main body. I do not think it would right to either take any of the governmentís rights, prerogatives and obligations from it, or to burden it with new ones. We certainly do not need to create two centres of power within the executive branch. I am not in favour of curtailing the presidentís powers. We simply need to ensure more effective interaction between the executive, judicial and legislative branches of power. This is the direction in which we should work in developing our state power system. In my view, it would be a mistake to redistribute the powers within the executive branch at this point in our history.
QUESTION: When will the Secretary of the Security Council be appointed? At the moment it is still being headed by an interim secretary and this has given rise to a lot of rumours that it will be reformed. Is this the case?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: No, I have no such plans. The Security Council is a constitutional body and I do not think there is a need to make any changes to it. It works quite effectively. As for the personnel question, this is important, of course, but it is not the biggest issue. The Council is working at the moment in full and carrying out all of its functions under its current leadership. As for the appointment of the secretary, we will see. There are a number of different options and I have not decided yet.
QUESTION: Vladimir Vladimirovich, how satisfied are you with the work of the new prime minister, Viktor Zubkov, and the new ministers, the two women appointees, for example?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: Minor changes have been made to the government Ė including not only the appointment of new ministers but also the redistribution of some functions within ministries and agencies, for example, some agencies have transferred some of their powers to the Regional Development Ministry headed by Dmitry Nikolayevich Kozak, and I think that this is justified in order to obtain concrete results in the regions.
As for the newly appointed ministers, [Economic Development and Trade Minister] Nabiullina and Healthcare and Social Development Minister Golikova, they are excellent specialists and are not new to the fields in which they are working. They were appointed not on the basis of their gender but for their professional qualities. They are working effectively. They did not even need any time to get to know the situation but right from the start have been at the centre of the issues and actively involved in work. I was constantly on the phone with them yesterday, with Golikova, Nabiullina, and with [Finance Minister] Kudrin and the prime minister too, of course, during preparations for the Direct Line today. I think it is clear that the objective I set in forming a new government has been reached because the government has started working a lot more energetically, and I think that is also working more effectively now.
QUESTION: It is a lot easier today to lose oneís seat in the Duma than to get elected or re-elected to it, especially after your decision to participate in this election campaign. It looks to me likely that the election could result in only two parties making up the new Duma. In your view, what kind of political system and party system are relevant for the country today and potentially in the future?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: The number of parties represented in the parliament depends on who the voters choose. Whoever wins the votes and makes it past the 7-percent barrier will be represented in the parliament. As for my view of the situation, I think it would be extremely useful to have opposition forces, both left and liberal right, represented, but as for what the election results will actually bring, this we will have to wait until December to see.
QUESTION: My question is more of a personal one. You celebrated your birthday just recently. What did your wife and daughters give you? Which of the presents you received did you like, and which came as a surprise?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: To be honest, I do not even always look at these presents. Some of them I simply hand over for storage. I do not want to offend anyone, but there simply is not time to look at everything. As for family presents, I am wearing the suit I was given right now.
QUESTION: Who is the maker?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: It would be hidden advertising for me to say.
QUESTION: Vladimir Vladimirovich, did it occur to you that during the Direct Line, you were speaking not only in your capacity as President and Commander-in-Chief, but also as the head of a partyís federal list? Did you take into account the fact that it would be easy to infringe the law, answering questions not related to your professional activities, as now, for example, and that this would be seen as election campaigning? Did this affect your answers?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: Yes, it did. I think that everyone, including myself, should abide by the laws in force. As the head of a party list, I explained my motives for deciding to do this, but I did not make any direct calls to vote for this or that party. I think that this is in keeping with the electoral laws, and I think that I managed to avoid infringing the laws.
QUESTION: Vladimir Vladimirovich, are you sad that this was your last Direct Line?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: I think that rather than having regrets it is better to analyse. If mistakes have been made, it is important to try to ensure they donít happen again in the future. Rather than losing time over regrets it is more important to plan for the future, and this is what I try to do.