On April 14, 2016, Russian President Vladimir Putin answered questions from the nation in his annual Q&A session on the Direct Line program broadcast live on Channel One, Rossiya-1 and Rossiya-24 TV channels, and Mayak, VestiFM and Radio Rossii radio stations. Among this year's key topics were the economic situation in the country, the State Duma election in the fall, the Syrian war, the Ukrainian crisis, and the Panama Papers. The Direct Line organizers began collecting questions on April 7 and the total number of questions exceeded three million. Politicians, journalists, and public figures were invited to the Direct Line studio and had the opportunity to ask Putin their questions. Mobile studios were set up so that people across Russia could put their questions to the Russian president. Direct Line program hosts were Valeria Korableva from Channel One, and Yevgeny Rozhkov, from VGTRK. According to Kremlin press secretary Dmitry Peskov, Putin spent the two previous days, April 12 and 13, preparing for his question-and-answer marathon. The live broadcast lasted three hours and 40 minutes, during which Putin answered 80 questions.
Following are excerpts from the Direct Line transcript of the session, as published by the Kremlin website:
"We Restricted The Import Of Foodstuffs In Response To The Western Sanctions Against Russia"
Direct Line with Putin. (Source: Kremlin.ru, April 14, 2016)
Program host Yevgeny Rozhkov: "Well, Russia has traversed another difficult year with the Western sanctions and the fall in oil prices. Of course, this has all had an impact on the Russian economy. The statistics show that for the first time in many years, we have had a drop in production, wages are coming down, and people are losing their jobs. Despite these difficulties, and in spite of everything, perhaps, Russia's economy has pulled through and is certainly not in tatters, as your colleague [U.S. President] Barack Obama predicted it would be... Let's start with questions on essential issues... Lyudmila Safronova from Moscow is asking about prices, of course: 'Last year I spent 5,000 rubles on weekly food purchases... A year later, that is today, the same amount costs 10,000 rubles, or twice as much, whereas the government claims that inflation is only 12.5 percent. Whom should I trust - the government or the supermarket till receipt?'"
Russian President Vladimir Putin: "You should trust both... There is no contradiction. The government is talking about the average annual inflation, which was 12.9 and not 12.5% last year... However, we should pay special attention to the situation with food. Frankly, we are partially responsible for the increase in food prices. Why? Because we restricted the import of foodstuffs in response to the Western sanctions against Russia. We did this knowingly, expecting this to create conditions for the development of our agricultural industry and to create a free market... Overall though, looking at the long term, we think this will produce a positive effect, increase our food security... I not only hope but am quite confident that what we are seeing now are temporary difficulties and gradually, as local products fill the Russian market, prices will come down."
"The Reserve Funds Will Last At Least Four Years, Even If They Are Not Replenished And Nothing Is Done To Save Them"
Program host Valeriya Korableva: "Here is another question: It is said that Russia's national reserves will last only one year. Will there be enough to get through the crisis?"
Vladimir Putin: "...[R]eserves have recovered. I'm talking about the reserves held by the Central Bank or the so-called international reserves of the state. They have recovered to early 2014 levels, and are actually a little higher than that. We had 385.5 billion rubles in early 2014, and now Russia's reserves are equal to 387 billion rubles. The reserve funds managed by the government (just to remind you, we have two funds of this kind: the Reserve Fund and the National Welfare Fund) have shrunk, but only slightly. As of today, they hold $50 and $71 billion, respectively, or 10.5% of the country's GDP.
"What does this mean? This means that if we maintain the same level of spending as, say, last year, the reserve funds will last at least four years, even if they are not replenished and nothing is done to save them. That said, we expect the economy to grow next year, which means that we may not have to spend as much of our reserves. Maybe we will not even have to spend as much as we already have. This means that there should be no fears in this respect. Having reserves in the amount of 10.5% of GDP means that if we stopped everything, and I mean, just did nothing, and just lay around the house all day, we could live for four monthsÔÇª The country can just freeze for four months and we will still get along."
The Main Issues Are Not Whether To Print More Money, Or Oil Prices, But "To Change Our Economy's Structure"
Yevgeny Rozhkov: "I hope we won't come to a standstill. The question 'When will the crisis hit bottom?' is a real concern on people's minds. Here's another question: 'Does it worry you that economic discussions boil down to three subjects now: when will we hit bottom, when will oil prices rise, and should we print money or is there enough in the Treasury? Meanwhile, technological change continues in the world, new markets emerge, and new trade alliances such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership [trade agreement among 12 Pacific Rim countries signed February 4, 2016] are being formed as alternatives to the World Trade Organization (WTO). Do you not get the impression that we have turned inwards, shut ourselves off, and may be left behind in the wake of these global economic transformations?' This is a question from Oksana Stychinskaya in Lipetsk Region."
Vladimir Putin: "Let me say to Oksana, and to everyone else who follows our economic developments closely, that this is what gets discussed at the superficial level, in the media, but this is not the case among the expert community. You hear the discussion on the three main issues you named, to print or not to print money, oil prices, and so on. In reality though, the real discussions have a different focus. The main issues are how to attract investment, make our economy more efficient, and ensure demand, in other words, how to raise people's incomes. This is what the government is at work on... Most important is not to print money but to change our economy's structure... In February, we saw the first positive change toward this trend, and we also saw that high-tech exports have increased compared to exports of natural resources. So you can see that in real life we certainly do not limit ourselves to the three issues you just named."
Financial Expert And Former Finance Minister Kudrin "Will Work More Actively At The Presidential Expert Council, Possibly As A Deputy Chair"
Valeriya Korableva: "One more question on the same issue: 'Is it true that Alexei Kudrin [former finance minister and the architect of Russia's financial system] will become head of [Russia's main think tank on economic policy] the Centre for Strategic Research, and will prepare a new economic program?'"
Vladimir Putin: "Maybe Mr. Kudrin and I don't meet as often as we'd like to, but we still do so regularly. I appreciate his past contributions to our economic development; he is definitely one of our best and most valuable experts. As you know, he refused to work in the administration, but I see now that his stance has changed a bit. Our situation is not simple, and he is willing to do his part to deal with the tasks facing the country. We have agreed that he will work more actively at the Presidential Expert Council, possibly as a deputy chair. He can also work at one of the more effective agencies, including those created in the past, such as the Centre for Strategic Research, formulating a development strategy for the immediate future, the post-2018 period, and a more distant future."
Direct Line with Putin (Source: Kremlin.ru, April 14, 2016)
On Syria: "We Made Sure That After Our Withdrawal, The Syrian Army Would Be In A Fit State To Carry Out Serious Offensives Itself"
Yevgeny Rozhkov: "So let's talk about the Syrian campaign and Syria, all the more so since Russia's achievements there have been really recognized around the world. Our Aerospace Forces' operations have seriously undermined the potential of ISIS, but the bulk of our forces have pulled out of Syria, though some of them are still there. Is it possible that the head of this terrorist hydra will grow back?"
Vladimir Putin: "Such a danger always exists if you do not pay enough attention to combating terrorism. We see that many countries suffer from this scourge: the Middle East, Asia, the United States, and European countries. As for Russia, we all know about terrorism and know what losses we have suffered in this fight, and the threat remains today. But in Syria, it is not a case of simply getting up and leaving, and abandoning everything. Let me note that we did indeed withdraw a substantial portion of our forces, but we made sure that after our withdrawal, the Syrian army would be in a fit state to carry out serious offensives itself, with our remaining forces' support. And we see that after our withdrawal, the Syrian army took Palmyra [on March 27, 2016] and a number of other important strategic towns. The number of towns now enforcing the ceasefire has increased since our withdrawal. We hope very much that this ceasefire, with support from whichever quarter, including from Russia, will pave the road to a peace settlement. There needs to be a political process, to get everyone to agree, sit down at the negotiating table and adopt a constitution, and then on the basis of this constitution hold early elections and find a way out of the crisis."
Yevgeny Rozhkov: "How long do you think it will be until Aleppo is liberated, and then Raqqa, ISIS's heartland?"
Vladimir Putin: "The problem is that the situation with Aleppo is very complicated. Aleppo is a strategically important region in Syria. It is the second-biggest city and perhaps even the country's industrial capital. The armed opposition is present there, and so is Jabhat Al-Nusra... It is very hard to tell who is who there. They adopt different tactics and are currently all trying to strengthen their own positions. The Syrian army does not have to try to bolster its position, because it achieved what it wanted before the ceasefire was announced, with our help, and does not have to make such attempts now, but the opposition is trying to take back what it lost. Incidentally, it is not the Syrian army that is fighting there, but for the most part it is Kurdish groups and a few other armed groups. They are fighting each other and fighting the Kurds. We are following the developments closely and will do all we can to prevent any worsening of the situation."
"We Have Confidence In The Policy Of Responding To Any Unfriendly Actions Towards Russia - Because If We Do Not... They Will End Up Walking All Over Us"
Valdai Discussion Club head Andrei Bystritsky, in the studio: "...Just last September, [Turkish President] Recep Tayyip Erdogan was considered your friend, and Turkey almost a strategic partner. You inaugurated the new Cathedral Mosque in Moscow together. And now the friendship has ended abruptly, turning into what - enmity? Looking back at Ukraine, then Moldova, Georgia, and Turkey, other countries - it seems like we will soon find ourselves surrounded by enemies. Can Russia develop successfully in these circumstances?"
Vladimir Putin: "We are not surrounded by enemies and we will not end up in that position. This is absolutely out of the question. We have good, friendly relations with most countries. I am not even talking about effective organizations such as the SCO, ...and our integration associations, the Eurasian Economic Union, BRICS, and so on. On the whole, we have good relations with our neighbors. We see Turkey as a friend, and the Turkish people as friendly people with whom we will definitely continue to build good neighborly and friendly relations.
"We have problems with certain political leaders whose behavior is less than adequate as far as Russia is concerned, and we react appropriately. But we are still operating smoothly, as you can see, and not making any sudden moves. We have confidence in this policy of responding to any unfriendly actions toward Russia, because if we do not respond they will end up walking all over us. We do have a recent history of just that, and we will not condone a return to it. Yet, as we keep our interests in mind, we will certainly develop our relationships with all our partners, including our neighbors."
Valeriya Korableva: "...Last year, you said you would come to the rescue of a drowning [President] Obama. If you found [Ukraine President Petro] Poroshenko and Erdogan drowning now, whom would you save first? [From] Varya Kuznetsova, 12 years old..."
Vladimir Putin: "Varya, you have put me on the spot. I do not know what to say. I would say, you cannot save someone who has decided to drown. But of course we are ready to lend a helping hand and friendship to any of our partners, if they want to take it."
"The Current Turkish Authorities Are Not So Much Fighting Radicals As They Are Cooperating With Them"
Yevgeny Rozhkov: "...When, in your opinion, will air service with Egypt and charter flights to Turkey resume? When will it happen?"
Vladimir Putin: "...As for trips to Turkey and Egypt, it doesn't depend on us. While the reasons behind the restrictions were different in these two cases, the results were the same. Why different? In Egypt, the current authorities are fighting radicals, but it's not always easy... [With regard to Turkey], we are seeing a similar picture there, although, we believe that the current Turkish authorities are not so much fighting radicals as they are cooperating with them. However, the country's domestic issues also force us to consider security. A de facto civil war is underway in the south of the country... By the way, I'm more than sure that the Turkish authorities will strive to provide security for tourists, including from Russia, since tourism accounts for a substantial portion of budget revenues in that country. Last year, almost five million Russian tourists visited Turkey..."
Yevgeny Rozhkov: "This means that we will have to spend our vacations in Crimea. Everything is fine there."
Vladimir Putin: "Crimea and the Caucasus. There are also many other countries in the world. Why are these two so attractive? I suppose they are cheaper and not too far away..."
On The Panama Papers: "The Nearer The Elections, The More Such Stories Will Be Planted"
Direct Line with Putin (Kremlin.ru, April 14, 2016)
Caller Eduard Ladov: "Why are you not responding to the slander coming from the Western media? Perhaps you should hire good lawyers and sue the media for publishing false information about offshore businesses? Thank you."
Vladimir Putin: "I thought that we put this issue behind us, but if you are interested, I can say more about it. First, strange as it may seem, they are not publishing false information about offshore businesses. Their information is reliable. It looks like it was put together by lawyers rather than reporters - judging by the presentation style and the facts. After all, they are not accusing anyone of anything specifically. This is their entire point... Some of my friends engage in some sort of business. The question is whether a portion of these offshore funds makes it to government officials, including the President. However, no one could ever think that [cellist] Mr. [Sergei] Roldugin would spend all of the money that he earned there to buy musical instruments.
"We have heard here, in Russia, about bribes in the form of borzoi greyhound puppies, but violins and cellos are unheard of. Moreover, these people's allegations fell wide of the mark, which came as a surprise to them. In addition to other considerations, it is also because the items I am referring to are very specific and can be appreciated by all collectors who have them. Selling them to anyone is simply impossible.
"The instruments that Mr. Roldugin bought - I believe, he bought two violins and two cellos - are unique. The last one he bought (I will say it, because it was already posted online) cost about $12 million. I am not sure if we have instruments of such value in our country. [Russian cellist] Mstislav Rostropovich [1927-2007] had one, but, unfortunately, we were unable to buy it - the state had no money for that - and it went to Japan.
"The instruments I am referring to (I spoke with Mr. Roldugin) have proper names. This cello is called Stuart. Recently, Mr. Roldugin performed in Moscow, I believe, at the Philharmonic, and the reporters said he played an old, apparently used, but clearly much-loved instrument. Indeed, it is a used instrument. It has been in use since 1732, and was made by Stradivarius. The legendary King of Prussia, Frederick the Great, was its first owner. Of course, such instruments can serve only one purpose - to please music lovers. However, it did not occur to anyone that we have people like Mr. Roldugin. He is now in the process of transferring the title to this violin to the state. Nevertheless, I am asking all kinds of crooks and the like to settle down. Sergei [Roldugin] already has nothing, because he has spent more money to purchase these instruments than he had, and now he is in debt, even to the agencies and foundations through which he bought all of this.
"However, who is engaged in these provocations? We know that there are employees of official US agencies; an article was written - I asked [my] press secretary [Dmitry] Peskov where it first appeared - in [the German daily] S├╝ddeutsche Zeitung. S├╝ddeutsche Zeitung is part of a media holding that belongs to the U.S. financial corporation Goldman Sachs [on April 15, the Kremlin issued an official apology to S├╝ddeutsche Zeitung for Putin's incorrect statement that the newspaper is owned by the U.S. multinational investment banking firm Goldman Sachs  ]. In other words, those behind this stand out, but they never blush.
"We should not expect any repentance from them. They will keep doing this anyway, and the nearer the elections, the more such stories will be planted. However, they should understand that this is not about specific individuals, whatever their position in Russia. This is about a country that cannot be manipulated, cannot be forced to act and dance as somebody may want it to, to dance to somebody else's tune. If they treat us respectfully, if they seek compromise solutions, the way we do, then we will find a solution that will suit everyone: both ourselves and our partners. Russia should simply be treated as an equal partner. This is the only correct conclusion based on what is happening now."
On The State Duma Elections: "Stalin... Once Said That It Is Not Whom People Vote For That Matters, But Who Does The Counting; I Hope, Though, That This Will Not Be The Case"
Dmitry Bocharov, who submitted a video question: "Hello Mr. President, I am Dmitry Bocharov, from Moscow. Everyone says we should go and vote in the [upcoming fall] State Duma elections, and they assure us that the elections will be faultless and transparent. However, is it worth taking part in the elections when we know that the votes will be counted in [the ruling party] United Russia's favor anyway? Thank you."
Vladimir Putin: "Well, I have done nothing to earn your thanks yet. It was Stalin who once said that it is not whom people vote for that matters, but who does the counting. I hope though, that this will not be the case. First of all, no one has any doubt about the electoral commissions' effectiveness and objectivity, and if people do have doubts, there are also ways for them to protect their interests. However, this is not the real issue.
"Let me say a few words about United Russia. As you know, this party has been in power for many years now and it has always carried a great burden of responsibility for all of the problems we still have to solve, including perhaps those for which it is not directly responsible. People have the right to demand and expect effective work from this party. They are perfectly justified to do so. It is also true, however, that United Russia acts as a stabilizing force in our political system... But when you start making responsible decisions about organizing a complete overhaul of apartment blocks, say, what to do about the housing and utilities sector, how to make sure that needy groups have the medicines they require, decent medicines and at reasonable prices, this always involves compromises of one kind or another, always. It is impossible to completely satisfy all demands...
"Look at Europe's most developed countries. Are people entirely happy with the healthcare systems there? No, I assure you that they are not... there are problems everywhere, absolutely everywhere...
"If you look back at the recent gubernatorial elections in Irkutsk Region, the United Russia candidate did not make it through the first round, did not get the required number of votes. He was short on votes by only 0.36%. Following your logic, it should have been a piece of cake to fiddle this figure slightly, but no one did this. In the second round, he lost to the Communist Party candidate..."
Direct Line with Putin (Source: Kremlin.ru, April 14, 2016)
Alina, first grader who submitted a video question: "My name is Alina, and I am in first grade. Could a woman become president of our Russia? Because Daddy says that only Putin can deal with America." [applause]
Vladimir Putin: "Alina, we should not focus on how to deal with America. We have to think about how to deal with our domestic affairs and problems, our roads, our healthcare, education, how to develop our economy, restore it and reach the required growth pace.
"If we do all this, we will not have to deal with anybody because then - and only then - will we be invulnerable people with bright prospects who want to live in this country and are proud of it. As for a woman president, maybe a woman would do best at tackling these problems."
Yevgeny Rozhkov: "...A question from Crimea, the city of Simferopol. Oleg Krasov asks you: 'Mr. President, could promise the Crimeans that you will run for the presidency in 2018?'"
Vladimir Putin: "Thank you very much for the question but I think it is premature..."
Putin Points Out Hypocrisy Of Bush, Clinton Political Dynasties
Political commentator Alexei Mukhin, from the Political Information Centre, Moscow, in the studio: "Good afternoon, Mr. President. What our voters have on offer is a set stock of party brands: United Russia that you just mentioned, the Communist Party of the Russian Federation, the Liberal Democratic Party, and A Just Russia. They are led by respected politicians and so on. However, unfortunately, all other brands, all other party associations are kept at bay. It seems to me that there is a kind of conspiracy here on the part of the brands that have struck root and are part of the established setup in parliament, and they simply do not allow others to move forward. In addition, a similar situation is emerging in the non-establishment opposition. The same faces have been around for years now. Tell me please, are we doomed to this kind of stability or is there still a chance?"
Vladimir Putin: "First of all, I would not call our political parties 'brands;' after all, these are large public organizations, not some market commodity. And millions of voters are behind them."
Yevgeny Rozhkov: "'Brands' mostly likely refers to the leaders of these parties."
Vladimir Putin: "I understand, and still I will state my position in response to the way the question was formulated. This is first. Second, as a matter of fact, the situation is exactly the same in countries that cast themselves as mature democracies. This is confusing and it can even be dangerous. Look, over centuries, there have been only two parties at the top in the United States: the Democratic Party and the Republican Party. In Europe, say, in France, there are socialists and conservatives; in Germany, there are Christian Democrats, the Christian Democratic Union and the Social-Democratic Party, and they are all together; there are liberals, but they are rather on the sidelines.
"Today, amid the ongoing crises, the refugee flow, and the [public] discontent, new parties are emerging: Alternative for Germany. I cited the example of Yekaterinburg where a representative of the Democratic Platform or whatever it is called has become the mayor of one of the country's largest cities, so this is already happening there. As for specific individuals, take the United States as an example. First [U.S. President George H. W.] Bush Sr. was in power there, later on [U.S. President George W.] Bush Jr. - all from the same family. [U.S. President Bill] Clinton was in power for two terms and now his wife is laying claim to this position, and the family may remain in office. What does this have to do with turnover? As the saying goes, 'Husband and wife are a single devil,' and they will be at the helm. I am not saying this is all bad. There are pros and cons to it.
"As for the leaders of our parties, you know that the revolutionary events of the early 1990s brought to the fore charismatic people who can lead others - this is my first point. Secondly, and most importantly, they have a position. This is extremely important. The CPRF [Communist Party of the Russian Federation] and the liberal democrats have their own ideologies. [Just Russia leader] Sergei Mironov's party also has a socialist ideology. I am referring to the members of A Just Russia.
"I believe United Russia has generally a conservative, centrist platform. It is guiding our national ship between Scylla and Charybdis, choosing options that are acceptable for large strata of the population, for our citizens, and assuming responsibility for what are not such popular decisions. This is the current situation, but this does not mean that our list of political parties is not expanding. It is. What decision did we make? To remove certain restrictions for access to elections. I do not remember the exact figures and I would not want to make a mistake, but the number of parties admitted to regional and federal elections has increased dramatically. It turns out access to elections is not the main issue. First and foremost, they must show the voters what they want and how they plan to achieve their goals."
On Chechen Leader Kadyrov: "Extreme Actions... Regarding Opponents Do Not Lead To Greater Stability In The Country - On The Contrary, This Is Detrimental To Stability"
Sergei Dorenko, editor-in-chief of This is Radio Moscow! radio station, in the studio: "When you started talking about elections and the year of elections, Mr. Putin, I was sure that this would be a nervewracking discussion, and it has begun. We have already been told that the opposition is the "enemy of the "peopleÔÇØ and we have been shown our former prime minister in the sights of a gun.
"I think the role of the state is to set the limits beyond which nobody should go. Could you tell governors and the public forces here and now, using your massive authority, where we are permitted to fight for the horizons of the future without rules, and where rules must be obeyed?"
Vladimir Putin: "Nowhere is it permissible to fight without rules! If we are a civilized state..."
Sergei Dorenko: "Does this mean permission to hunt for public enemies? You know, if we begin this year with attempts to uncover public enemies, it will not end well. I do not even want to say how."
Vladimir Putin: "Yes, I see who you are referring to. You are referring to the head of one of Russia's regions in the Caucasus [Ramzan Kadyrov]. I see that. I raised this issue with him personally. That said, let's look at how things are in reality. What is this reality all about? Who is the person you are talking about? It is true that he now heads one of Russia's regions, the Chechen Republic. Where did he start? By conducting a partisan war against us. Have you forgotten? He was armed and fighting alongside his father. No one forced his father; no one recruited or coerced him. He came to the conclusion on his own that Chechnya should be with the Russian people and be part of Russia.
"This serves the interests of the Chechen people. This calls for a complex transformation of mentality. It was challenging and the need for it came from within. And I know that Ramzan Kadyrov shares these beliefs. He would never have headed any republic within the Russian Federation if he had not been confident that he was making the right choice. You know, these people are ready to risk everything, including their lives. One day he said to me 'Let me die with dignity!' They are ready for it, but only if it serves the interests of their people. Still, we need to understand who these people are. I am not even mentioning here that people in the Caucasus are hotheads. Therefore, it is not easy for these people to learn to serve as high-ranking government officials.
"We are all human, we all have our pasts. However, I believe that the head of Chechnya and the heads of other Russian regions will understand the level and degree to which they are liable to the people living on the territories they govern and to Russia in general. They must understand that extreme actions or radical statements regarding opponents do not lead to greater stability in the country. On the contrary, this is detrimental to stability. Once they understand this, and I am confident that they will, as they are sincerely committed to serving national interests, there will be no statements of this kind. It may also be that there were omissions on my behalf in this respect."
On The Ukraine Crisis: I Think The Sanctions Will Remain, Even Though We Are Complying With Minsk Agreements "In A Dreadful Manner"
Dmitry Zykov, in the studio: "Good afternoon, Mr. Putin. My name is Dmitry Zykov. I am a farmer, and I work in livestock production. We are concerned about the possibility of the sanctions being lifted. If they are, our products will never find their way to the market. We also have bank loans to repay. If cheap foreign products make it to Russia, we, unfortunately, will be unable to make good on these loans. And this will be the end for us."
Vladimir Putin: "Well, this is not a question, as far as I can tell..."
Yevgeny Rozhkov: "A cry for help."
Vladimir Putin: "You have outlined your situation and made your concerns known. You know, I do not think that our partners will repeal the restrictions and limitations with regard to this country any time soon, even despite the fact that the Minsk agreements regarding southeastern Ukraine are being complied with in a dreadful manner. It is not our fault, but, as I am sure everyone understands now, the fault is with the Kiev authorities. Still, they are unable to admit that they have arrived at a dead end. Therefore, they will come up with something in order to keep these restrictions in place. Accordingly, we will maintain the appropriate restrictions on their food exports to our market. If, eventually, they come to the realization that repealing these restrictions serves their own interests, then, of course, they will create a difficult situation for us, because under the WTO rules, we will wind up unprotected if we keep our counter-sanctions in place.
"We will closely monitor this process. There are many ways to support our agricultural sector. We can see - I have already mentioned it today - our farmers picking up momentum and producing more milk, meat, fruits, and vegetables, as well as increasing their processing capabilities. There is an extensive support program in place, and we will certainly do our best to implement it. However, let us look at this problem not with fear, but rather with optimism."
Direct Line with Putin (Source: Kremlin.ru, April 14, 2016)
Valeriya Korableva: "...Here is a question from our program's website. You have already mentioned the Minsk agreements today. The question is: 'Why all this talk about Minsk 2? The Minsk agreements are not being implemented and, to all appearances, will not be implemented by Kiev. What will become of Donbass? Will another war break out?'"
Vladimir Putin: "Right, much has been left hanging with regard to implementing the Minsk agreements. I will try to be very careful, but there are obvious things. Their obviousness lies in the following: Political issues are top priority when we address all the problems in southeastern Ukraine. The population of these territories must feel safe and realize that they have modern, civilized rights, and the right to exercise these rights. What I mean is this: Constitutional changes should come first. According to the Minsk agreements, the Ukrainian Constitution should be amended before the end of 2015. However, as we know, these changes came through the vote in the first reading but got stuck in the second. After all, it is not up to us to change the Ukrainian Constitution.
"As was stipulated, the law on the special status was to be introduced de facto within 30 days upon its signing. However, it has not been introduced. The endorsement of the amnesty law was also stipulated. It has been adopted but the President has not signed it. It is not our duty to do that. Is this clear? They keep complaining that shooting is heard from time to time along the demarcation line. It is a false excuse, however convenient it might be for those who do not want to comply with the Minsk agreements - excuse my bluntness.
"They start shooting and get return fire, and there they have a skirmish. Does this mean that there is no need to implement the Minsk agreements? No. There is no alternative to the implementation of the Minsk agreements if the problem is to be settled. The United States, Europe, and our other partners say: You know, they have a complicated domestic political situation, so they cannot do it. Maybe they cannot, but what do we have to do with it? You see, that is what the problem boils down to.
"However, if the Ukrainian authorities and our European partners really want us to travel that road and achieve the right goal, it demands teamwork with partners in Kiev, where the President, the incoming and outgoing prime ministers, and the entire opposition are linked with Western countries one way or another. Exercise your influence on them, then, instead of repeating again and again that Moscow should implement this and that. We have done everything we were supposed to do, and they also have to do something now.
"Let us see how the situation develops. We are willing to promote the process in any possible way. I proceed from the assumption that there will be no active fighting anymore. On the contrary, when I talked with [the Ukrainian] President Petro Poroshenko recently, he suggested - it was really his suggestion - that the presence of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) should be expanded, particularly, that armed OSCE officers should be present along the demarcation line, to have the ceasefire fully observed. I think this is the right thing to do, and we support it. Now, we should work with our Western partners for the OSCE to pass this decision, increase its staff substantially, and, if necessary, authorize its officers to bear firearms.
"We Say We Have Very High Inflation... But Inflation In Ukraine Is Over 48%"
Viktoria Korablyova: "While we are on the air, Ukraine has received a new prime minister. As expected, Vladimir Groisman headed the Cabinet. What do you think of the new Ukrainian government?"
Vladimir Putin: "Nothing. I cannot think of the new Ukrainian government, as I know nothing about it. I know nothing about its composition, about what priorities it will set, about what it is going to do. I only know what was planned and what was really done. If I am not mistaken, the Ukrainian government, the former Ukrainian government now, approved a plan of action in late 2014, which consisted of nine points. Only two of them were implemented - and incompletely. I am not going to comment on them, you can find this information on the Internet. The results are certainly harsh. In Russia, we have the expression 'to shift challenges and problems to the people's shoulders.' That is exactly the case in today's Ukraine. We say we have very high inflation - 12.9%. Yes, it is high, but it tends to decrease, even significantly decrease. But inflation in Ukraine is over 48%, can you imagine that? It is beyond all reason. Gas prices rose not by a few percent but by 3.3 times; heating prices - by over 50%, if I am not mistaken; electricity prices rose by some 53% last year and are expected to rise by another 63% this year.
"I think it is economically unfeasible. Why? Because the share of the population paying for gas, for example, was the lowest among CIS countries [Commonwealth of Independent States]: I do not remember the exact number - something around 20%, [Deputy Chairman of the Board of Directors and Chairman of the Management Committee (CEO) of Russian energy company Gazprom] Mr. [Alexey Borisovich] Miller told me about that. But if gas prices more than triple, nobody will pay - that is the problem. However, we need a stable and prosperous Ukraine. And we really hope that our expectations will be met. Although the crisis that began there due to the well-known EU Association Agreement is some kind of man-made [thing], some kind of nonsense. I cannot understand why this was done. It seems to me that it just served as a tool for regime change, nothing more, and nobody cared about the peopleÔÇª
"Oligarchs [in Ukraine] are still in power. Some are trying to create a scandal concerning offshore assets, but in Ukraine even the national leaders are billionaires and entrepreneurs with offshore companies... De-tycoonisation? No way. Oligarchy is becoming stronger. It is not that certain people are to blame, but rather that the fault lies with the clan management system that has strengthened in recent years. And this is not just our assessment but also that of our Western partners. I am telling you, I know what I am talking about.
"Nevertheless, we are interested in Ukraine getting back on its feet, in having a reliable partner and in ensuring that what is happening now, even in the economic sphere, does not continue. We have established zero customs tariffs with Europe for them, while [their] trade turnover with Europe fell by 23% and with Russia, by 50%. Who has gained from this? Why was this done? This is incomprehensible.
"Yes, we introduced countermeasures in response to Ukraine joining the EU sanctions against Russia, but we introduced them half a year after they did...
On The Creation Of The National Guard: "The First Consideration... Behind This Decision Is The Need To Place The Circulation Of Weapons In The Country Under Special Control"
Abdurakhman Khavchayev, caller from Dagestan: "Good afternoon, Mr. President. I would like to ask what prompted you to issue an executive order on the creation of the National Guard? Why did the Internal Troops cease to meet the requirements? And will the National Guard have functions and powers that the Internal Troops did not have? Thank you."
Vladimir Putin: "What prompted me to do this? I should tell you that this question has been discussed for a long time and from various angles. The first and perhaps the most important consideration behind this decision is the need to place the circulation of weapons in the country under special control. If you paid attention, this decision involves not simply removing the Internal Troops from the Interior Ministry, but has to do with the fact that everything connected with weapons, with firearms, is concentrated within this agency. This includes all kinds of guard services, the licensing system, oversight of private security companies, and also the Internal Troops themselves. We hope to make this work more efficient and to minimize maintenance costs for various services. This position was also actively promoted by the Finance Ministry, by optimizing primarily administrative and staff structures. This is also related to what happens and should happen in the Interior Ministry and the National Guard itself.
Direct Line with Putin (Source: Kremlin.ru, April 14, 2016)
"...I looked up at the running screenÔÇªand saw a question about the National Guard: 'The National Guard is subordinate to the President. Do you not trust the law enforcement ministers?' It is not about trust but about the fact that the National Guard has been established as a separate independent federal agency like a ministry, and all law enforcement ministries and agencies are subordinate to the President."
On The Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict: "We Want... Full-Fledged Cooperation Both With Azerbaijan And Armenia"
Valeriya Korableva: "Nagorno-Karabakh is another case in point. There are many Russians who are ethnic Armenians, and over one and a half million ethnic Azerbaijanis have Russian passports. It is now uncommon for them to live side by side, engage in joint ventures, and even become relatives. It goes without saying that what is now happening in Nagorno-Karabakh is a matter of grave concern for them. So the question is: "What prospects do you personally see for settling the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict?"
Vladimir Putin: "This is a very sensitive issue, and I believe that we should be very cautious in dealing with it, just as the well-known, 'Do no harm,' principle in medical ethics goes. This is a long-standing issue, a conflict that has been frozen. Unfortunately there has been a surge in violence... Karabakh needs long-term solutions. Let me emphasize that they can be reached only through political means and compromise, which is a common thing to say, but I can't think of anything else. A few years ago it seemed that we had come close to a compromise. Unfortunately, it turned out that it was not the case...
"No matter what is said on this subject, Russia is interested in settling this issue, as we want to have full-fledged cooperation both with Azerbaijan and Armenia... Russia will do what it can in this respect. Of course, the people of Armenia and Azerbaijan must have the final word in the resolution of this conflict...."
On The Defense Budget: "We Should Temper The Appetites Of Defense, Security, And Law Enforcement Agencies"
Yury Kuznetsov, in the studio: "I am Yury Kuznetsov, head of a heavy machinery assembly shop. My question will surely be of interest to all defense industry workers. At present, we have a lot of orders, a lot of work. We buy new equipment. A large number of young people have joined us. However, there has been frequent talk recently to the effect that it is necessary to reduce state defense procurement orders. Could it happen that we will be left without jobs and that, as in the 1990s, we will have to carry out conversion programs such as manufacturing saucepans, frying pans, and other household appliances?"
Vladimir Putin: "Indeed, this is not an idle question. However, first of all, I should tell you that state defense orders will not be reduced. True, we are reducing the budgets of the Defense Ministry and some, in fact, practically all defense, security, and law enforcement agencies. Yes, we are doing this in connection with well-known budgetary constraints. And this is absolutely natural in the present-day situation.
"We should temper the appetites of defense, security, and law enforcement agencies, just are we are doing with regard to civilian agencies. It is essential to make a more efficient use of budgetary resources. However, these constraints apply to current operations, I stress, current operations, not state defense orders. The state defense order will be fulfilled in full.
"However, you are right in that the number of contracts and the utilization of manufacturing capacities this year and next are at a peak level, but that level will start to fall as our Armed Forces are provided with modern arms and equipment, which should account for up to 70%. Naturally, the question of how to utilize manufacturing capacities in the future will come up. Needless to say, we should think about this now, and not only we but also you should think about this. We should think about the conversion of enterprises. As defense enterprises are provided with modern equipment- a total of about threetrillion rubles has been earmarked for this - we act on the assumption that the equipment that will be procured can also be used for conversion in the future."
Valeriya Korableva: "Mr President, Nikita, a Moscow Engineering and Physics Institute (MIFI) student, asks what other enemies of Russia will be hit by our Aerospace Forces."
Vladimir Putin: "You know, our first task is to deal a blow to sloppy work and bad roads in the broadest sense of this phrase. If we do this well and efficiently, if we achieve results, our Armed Forces will really be invincible and the best in the world, as we would like them to be: compact, inexpensive, and modern. And then we will recall this wonderful song of the Soviet era: 'The Red Army is the strongest, from the Taigato to the British seas.' It is the strongest of all, as it is, but it should fortify itself in this position."
 Kremlin.ru, April 14, 2016.
 Tass.ru, April 14, 2016.
 Kremlin.ru, April 14, 2016. The original English has been lightly edited for clarity.
 See MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 6297, Leading Economists At Russia's Sixth Gaidar Forum: The Oil Age Is Over; Russia Needs Internal Reforms To Overcome Recession, February 9, 2016.
 See MEMRI Inquiry and Analysis No. 1235, Russian President Putin: Russia Will Withdraw Most Of Its Military From Syria - But Russian Activity At Tartus Naval Base And Hmeymim Airbase Will Continue As Before, March 15, 2016.
 The Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), founded in 2001 in Shanghai, by Russia, China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan. In addition to the six founding states, the SCO now includes six observer countries - Afghanistan, Belarus, India, Iran, Mongolia, and Pakistan - and six dialogue partners - Azerbaijan, Armenia, Cambodia, Nepal, Turkey, and Sri Lanka.
 The Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) is an economic union comprising Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan Republic, and Russia.
 BRICS - the group of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, whose creation was initiated by Russia.
 See MEMRI Inquiry & Analysis Series Report No. 1239, Understanding Russian Political Ideology And Vision: A Call For Eurasia, From Lisbon To Vladivostok, March 23, 2016.
 According to the Panama Papers, the name of Putin's friend, Russian cellist Sergei Roldugin, is at the center of a network of offshore deals and loans worth up to $2 billion; the trail would lead to Putin.
 The Panama Papers are a set of leaked documents. In 2015, an anonymous source contacted the German daily S├╝ddeutsche Zeitung and submitted encrypted internal documents from a Panamanian law firm that sells anonymous offshore companies around the world. S├╝ddeutsche Zeitung decided to analyze the data in cooperation with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ).
 Rt.com, April 15, 2016.
 See MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 6291, Chechen Republic Head Ramzan Kadyrov Launches Media Campaign Against Russian Opposition, February 4, 2016.