In Conversation with Dmitry Medvedev

Interview with Russian television channels.

Excerpts from the transcript:

Alexandra Suvorova (Rossiya 24, moderator): Good afternoon. In Conversation with Dmitry Medvedev is a traditional televised interview, which is being held for the 12th time. In the past the Prime Minister answered questions from five television channels, but this year he will take many more questions from the representatives of other channels as well.

I would like to remind you that Russia fully converted to digital broadcasting in October, so that now we have two multiplexes, the first and second multiplexes comprising 20 federal channels. Representatives from all of them are here to ask the questions that are of concern to their audiences. As usual, today’s interview will be streamed by the VGTRK television channels and radio stations, as well as OTR, Mir, Mir 24 and Zvezda. You can also watch the broadcast on the Government’s official accounts in the social network VKontakte and on YouTube.

Highlights will be posted on the Government’s account on Twitter. You can also see everything that happens in this studio and even beyond it on Instagram. This conversation will be also streamed by Yandex.

Well, we are ready to begin. Prime Minister of the Russian Federation Dmitry Medvedev.

Dmitry Medvedev: Good afternoon.

Alexandra Suvorova: Mr Medvedev, the first, traditional question is about the outcome of the year. What do you think about Russia’s economic performance in 2019? What have we achieved? Which industries should improve their performance? Have any additional tasks been set for the Government?

Dmitry Medvedev: It is always difficult to summarise the outcome of the year in several sentences, but I will try.

When we talk about the outcome, we always cite statistics. This may be a bit boring, but I will, nevertheless, mention some figures because they describe the situation in general.

On the whole, the performance of the Russian economy and the social sector was absolutely normal and stable throughout 2019. This is very important, especially given that we can all recall different years and different problems that arose one way or another.

In 2019, the Russian economy grew, although this did not happen at the rate that all of us would have liked to see. The highest rate we expect to achieve is around 1.3−1.5 percent of the GDP.

Generally speaking, we expected that the initial efforts to implement the national projects would be accompanied by a warm-up period. And we hope that we will achieve sustained and more impressive growth rates as a result of the measures we have taken.

I would like to point out that, under the presidential executive order that we are all familiar with and in line with our national goals, we should grow on a par with the global economy, that is, at a rate of 3 percent each year, and this is quite feasible.

Other statistics are, on the whole, mostly favourable. There are other figures as well that are overall quite positive. We can even say that this is good news for the Russian economy, and accordingly for all our people.

Take for example the inflation figures. The inflation rate is not expected to exceed 3.8 percent this year. This is the lowest rate in the entire history of the Russian Federation since its establishment. The 3.8 percent inflation rate is more than just a figure. It means that price fluctuations are limited by this rate, while banks have to take in account the actual inflation rate when setting their interest rates, as well as Central Bank’s key interest rate, which is calculated using inflation figures and will go down.

Mortgages are essential for enabling people to acquire housing. It goes without saying that mortgage rates are pegged to the inflation rate and the key interest rate, which means that we cannot fail but be overjoyed by a low inflation rate.

Speaking of other figures, unemployment statistics have also been quite upbeat. Russia has been seeing low unemployment rates lately at around 5 percent, and this year it is expected to be even lower at about 4.6 to 4.7 percent of the working age population. This figure was calculated using the methodology of the International Labour Organisation.

Everything is relative, of course. Just look at the world’s biggest economies where unemployment is in the range of 8 to 10 percent, on average. We are talking about millions of people without jobs. In this context, the figures we have are quite positive.

In Conversation with Dmitry Medvedev: Interview with Russian television channels

There is another essential factor in terms of national economic development. I am speaking about the budget. As you may know, the budget can have a deficit when spending exceeds revenue, which is not a good thing. There can also be a budget surplus when you have more revenue than spending. At this point in time, Russia has a budget surplus, and we expect it to be at about 1.8 percent of GDP. It is also a very comfortable safety margin that allows us to feel confident about the future. But I want to stress that a substantial part of this work is still to be done. This year has been a year of launching national projects and getting down to accomplishing national development goals. Some things turned out better and others, let’s admit it, they turned out worse because in a number of cases this build-up period has been slower than we expected. We need to analyse everything and learn from our mistakes so that next year will be better. It also depends on the policy of the Central Bank and the decisions it will take to try to warm up our economy a little bit and bring it up to a steady growth rate. Therefore, I have every reason to say that our country’s development in 2019 has been successful.

Yelena Vinnik (Channel One): Mr Medvedev, let’s talk more about the economy. According to reports by the Federal Service for State Statistics (Rosstat), over the first six months alone Russians’ wages grew by 7 percent on average, yet Russians’ real incomes are going down. Rosstat argues that incomes continue to go down for two reasons: the first is the price rises all over Russia and the second reason is mandatory monthly charges – mainly, interest payments on loans, of course. When and how do you think will we be able to turn this trend around?

Dmitry Medvedev: Let’s think about it for a minute. First of all, it is indeed a crucial issue because the figures I quoted in the beginning are significant in and of themselves but the most important thing is the actual welfare of our people, their real income or, as economists call it, the real disposable income. In the past years, this income decreased for a number of reasons. Between January and September, this trend has turned around and incomes began to grow. Quite possibly, at the yearend we will see positive rather than negative growth – still, it will be very slight growth, perhaps 0.2 to 0.3 percent. But it is not the main point. The main point is our people’s general well-being and overall mood. If they see that their incomes are stable and, what is even better, they are growing – great. If they realise that their financial standing is declining, this is terrible news and a red flag for the state and the Government. And we need to do something about it.

We do keep track of all these processes. In fact, Rosstat was right in saying that there are different aspects involved. One of them is the tax burden, which has increased slightly this year for reasons you already know about, as well as the burden from loans – you take out a loan, a consumer loan or a loan to buy a house, a mortgage – you need to repay it. This obviously reduces their basic income. It is clear that people have taken out these loans of their own accord. These instruments were not imposed on them, but nevertheless we must take this into account.

What can we do about this? Obviously, in this situation, we need to support the most vulnerable categories. Who are they? First of all, large families where there is not enough money in the family budget to raise children, buy food and other things. Second, people with limited employability, such as senior citizens or those with disabilities. It is these categories that we target. That is why a number of very important decisions have been made aimed at supporting those who need support.

What is the point of spreading the butter thin – distributing the benefits including to those who do not really need them, while those who really need them are not getting enough? We have changed our approach to benefits, compensation and support to make it more targeted and concentrated on these categories.

I will give one example here. Quite often in previous years, both our colleagues in the State Duma and ordinary people wrote to me that the benefit paid after the birth of a child is scanty and just makes no sense – it is 50 rubles. This is nothing. Poverty criteria were also different. Now we have raised the regional threshold per child at two minimum wages, and tied the amount of benefit to it, so it is no longer 50 rubles, but 10,000 rubles. This is something that can help people who have children and are not so well off.

A number of decisions have been made concerning people with disabilities, and senior citizens. I do not even have to mention that we have indexed their pensions in full and even made them a bit higher, so that this indexation does not lag behind and covers inflation.

As for the real disposable incomes, the money that people really get into their hands, we will continue working on this and will try to ensure that government support reaches the most vulnerable segments of the population.

Alexandra Suvorova: Let us continue. The next question is from Alexander Yevstigneyev from Rossiya 1.

Alexander Yevstigneyev (Rossiya 1): Mr Medvedev, can we talk about the growth of living standards some more? You and Yelena have touched on it already. You previously said that the growth of living standards was among the Government’s priorities. Much has been said about the efforts to reduce the number of the poor. This goal cannot be achieved without economic growth. You have mentioned today an increase of 1.3-1.5 percent this year. Is this correct?

Dmitry Medvedev: Yes, but it is the highest figure we can expect.

Alexander Yevstigneyev: Of course, we would like to see a higher growth rate. The Government seems to have a programme, or a plan for boosting economic growth. Does it have the necessary mechanisms so that we will see positive results in reality?

Dmitry Medvedev: Thank you for this question. Indeed, our economy is growing but not as much as we would like. This is clear to everyone. The President has spoken about this, and of course we discuss this at Government meetings. Therefore, we need to boost this growth. How can we do this? I have held a number of events on this issue and asked the advice of my colleagues at the Government, experts and the business community, and as the result we have mapped out several spheres for accelerating growth, which have been identified in the dedicated instruction I have signed.

First of all, we must lower administrative barriers. It is a perennial problem, which we always mention when summarising the outcome of the year. Frankly, a huge number of barriers have been created in the history of our state. The process began nearly 100 years ago, and we are trying now to sort out this problem. I am referring to the so-called administrative reform and the so-called regulatory guillotine, which is designed to cut off the regulatory acts that are no longer effective but are still hanging like a sword of Damocles over businesses and, ultimately, over everyone. While doing this, we must try not to make mistakes. I have said this recently, but I would like to repeat it once again. And then, we must not touch the privileges introduced back during the Soviet period by decisions of the Council of People’s Commissars (cabinet of ministers) of the Soviet Union and the RSFSR. These documents will be preserved until we relaunch them as modern laws. But this is a very important job. This is the first sphere of our activities.

In Conversation with Dmitry Medvedev: Interview with Russian television channels

The second aspect concerns business climate. We tend to say that our business climate has improved but it is still far from ideal. The reasons include the legislation, which needs improvement, the excessive activity of our law enforcement bodies, and a number of other problems. We have mapped out a series of steps, including the improvement of both civil, administrative and criminal laws.

My colleagues and I have recently met to discuss a very important law, the law on investment activities, which should change the regulation of investment projects and will hence create conditions for launching more of such projects. And the more we will have such projects, the more rapidly we will be developing.

Economists have calculated that if we increase investment in roads and motorways by 10 percent, this will create a multiplier effect and boost the growth of GDP by 0.6 percent. This is an impressive figure, because the growth of GDP even by one tenth of a percentage point means huge growth. And GDP is the indicator of our national wealth.

Therefore, this law on the so-called special investment contracts, or rather its new wording, will allow us to use this instrument even more actively, offering advantages to the companies that invest in our economy and that contribute positive things, such as modern technology, new products, new medicines, etc. This is also very important in the context of business climate. This is the second focus area.

Of course, we also need to monitor the labour market to make sure that it offers new professions and new jobs that are essential for the economy at this point in time.

We do understand that the labour market is changing. It does not stand still. There are professions that seemed essential not so long ago, but are now becoming less relevant. This is life, and we need to be ready so that the economy does not suffer, and most importantly to spare people any suffering.

Finally, the last thing I wanted to share on this topic is that we have taken the general decision to unseal the piggy bank, as the saying goes, which means making use of the opportunities offered by Russia’s National Wealth Fund. This was not an easy decision to make, and was thoroughly debated. This is a special instrument, our rainy-day fund in case a crisis breaks out in the global economy, as has already happened in the past decade. By the way, these funds and reserves helped us survive in these conditions, sparing us any dramatic consequences. This is why we took this decision in order to accelerate economic development.

We will probably invest about 1 trillion roubles from the National Wealth Fund over the course of the next few years, although I cannot yet share any exact figures with you. In any case, this will be a huge amount of money that will go towards investment projects and thus facilitate economic development. This will not only be about taking public money, putting it somewhere and waiting for returns. Not at all. These funds will be used in the following way: for every 20 kopecks or 20 roubles of public money, and the scale we use here does not matter, there should be 80 roubles or 80 percent in investment. This is how we will make these projects work, while ensuring a solid foundation through public funding. I hope that this instrument serves a good cause.

Yelena Spiridonova (NTV): Mr Medvedev, allow me to stay on the subject of big money being invested in the economy, while approaching this topic through the lens of national projects. I would like to elaborate on this question.

You have already mentioned that national projects were launched this year. They are intended as drivers of economic growth and basically provide a foundation for Russia’s economic development in the years to come. We are talking about almost 26 trillion roubles, an unprecedented amount. However the launch of these national projects did not go exactly smoothly. While the development agenda has been set and the money is there, there are problems with spending these funds. According to the Accounts Chamber, expenditure under national projects fell behind expenditure from the federal budget in terms of execution. How can this problem be explained? Why is this happening? Could this be an obstacle to achieving the declared goals, including promoting economic growth and becoming a top 5 global economy by 2024?

Dmitry Medvedev: You know, it is no great surprise that the funds are being spent slower than planned precisely because the work is in its first year. More than that, I am going to tell you this: We do not intend to go and put all the funds into just anything, so that the money is spent. Not so long ago, incidentally, the President of our country was speaking about this at one of the fora. Spending money is a wonderful thing, but in the process of doing this we must use our brains. I remember the periods, when, for example, we had no regulations concerning so-called advance payments. What are these advance payments? An advance payment is a prepayment granted, say, to this or that company, contractor, or supplier for them to be able to live up to their commitments. Or this is a government agency that distributes [funds] between these suppliers or contractors. So, we used to remit 100 percent to these advance payments. How did it look later? The cash execution (the thing you are asking me about) of the budget of a national project or anything else is 100 percent. The funds were put on one account and then moved to another, the cash execution is accomplished, and the books are in impeccable order. But nothing is happening in reality; the funds are just left on the recipient’s account, or are used inefficiently. Often they are just withdrawn from the economy. This is why we are now more cautious about it and, naturally, avoid converting everything to advance payments.

These are objective things, but there are also subjective things too. There is no disguising the fact that far from everyone is ready to quickly allot these funds. I had to really urge even some federal agencies, because this is a lot of money and the federal agencies at first feared losing their hold on it; in some cases, statutory regulation was inadequate. Later the regions faced problems as well. In a number of cases, our colleagues in the regions had failed to pass the relevant laws, and the funds, though available [on accounts], could not be spent because there was no procedure for using them.

Generally, all of this is wrong, of course; we must draw absolutely clear lessons from this next year and spend the funds efficiently and in the right amounts. That’s the right and proper way of doing things. I am counting on this. Recently, I once again drew the attention of my colleagues at the Government and the federal executive agencies to the fact that they should prepare and release or submit to the Government, that is, to me for signing, all these resolutions before December 31 of this year, so that all of this could be used in the proper manner as early as January 1.

The regions, naturally, are being urged to do the same, because all the work − money expenditure and the implementation of national projects are in the regions. It is a really enormous job, and we have never seen or done anything like it, at least in the post-Soviet period. So much money was never involved, either. I am not absolutely satisfied with how it was done. But at the same time, I think it is better to leave a little bit unfinished here but ensure that the money is spent efficiently. We will try to do better next year.

Alexander Kareyevsky  (Rossiya 24 TV channel): I would like to ask you about investment again. At the last meeting of the Foreign Investment Advisory Council, you said that there is great interest among foreign investors, despite the sanctions and so on. But then there was that Yandex story. The law imposing ownership restrictions on significant internet/information resources in Russia sent Yandex stocks tumbling; they collapsed by 25% in an instant. Now the situation seems to be resolved, but the company had been in disarray all this time before it was. Their stocks even showed a new high moment. But the bad taste remained. Is this a one-time story, an aberration, or can others follow?

Dmitry Medvedev: My answer is that it was a one-time story. We have only one Yandex. And it was a special situation with the adoption of the law, which is still in preparation. One and the same bill was discussed simultaneously both at the State Duma (this was shaking the market) and in the Government. I personally convened a meeting to produce a balanced bill that would take into account state interests, because companies like Yandex (which are infrastructure companies, in fact, only in the virtual space), are one in a kind and very important. We really appreciate what they do. But still, there should be regulations here, because our friends – both real friends and “friends…not!” as they say – have such regulations. And so we need them. But they shouldn’t be half-baked. Once we agreed on normal, balanced regulations, which are not tough, but at the same time leave the government the opportunity to influence the situation, everyone calmed down. I think this is a completely normal way out of the crunch.

You mentioned the FIAC. This is a slightly different story. It is about traditional economy. There we have more than 50 participants, all of them great fellows who have been working in our market for a long time; many have been here for 25 years. They have invested a lot. They are staying in our economy despite the sanctions, bans and threats that companies in other countries periodically face. They continue working. This council includes companies with the total capitalisation of about $2 trillion. This is a very significant part of the global GDP. They are working and investing. I meet with them every year. They are not going to leave our market. Even though there are a lot of problems in the global economy. Trade wars between the United States and China, as well as the European Union, which is also affected by this trade confrontation. Then there are the various sanctions introduced against our economy, and our response policies. In other words, the situation in the world economy and world trade is far from stable. But this only makes such investment more important.

Alexandra Suvorova: Now let’s move on to the second multiplex. As you remember, it consists of ten channels. This discussion of the economy has taken a bit too long. I think other issues will be covered now. So, we have ten channels, including Pyatnitsa. It is an entertainment channel that has been out there for six years and its trademark is reality shows, many of which are one-of-a-kind.

Anastasia Ivleyeva (Pyatnitsa): While we are on the subject of the internet, my question is:  given the recent adoption of the sovereign internet law, are there any plans to block YouTube in our country and if so, when? What about those content creators whose income directly depends on this platform? This question is particularly important to me.

Dmitry Medvedev: I understand. But I think you will also understand what I am going to say. Nobody is going to block anything. Nothing will happen to YouTube and those who make money on YouTube will still be making money. Although this is not up to us and depends on YouTube’s own policy. As you know this policy is also changing and becoming stricter in terms of copyright – both when it comes to YouTube’s commercial agreement and a whole number of other aspects related to the commercialisation of the internet.

The law you are taking about, sometimes called the “sovereign internet law,” is not, in fact, aimed at banning anything. First of all, bans are inefficient and they can be bypassed online quite easily. Second, the purpose of the law is completely different – namely, to make sure we do not get cut off from the global network if somebody decides to do that. At this point, people usually ask, “Who is ever going to cut us off?” As they say in one Soviet film, this is just “idle chit chat” because in reality, they could cut us off from anything. When, for example, our relationship with the United States turned sour, we know for sure and there were media reports about it, they seriously considered cutting us off from the payment verification system. You know, things like that are a punch in the stomach, a declaration of war. Still, it was on the table. They might as well turn off this internet tap – especially because we know that domain name registration and a number of other functions are controlled by the United States, by virtue of the internet’s history. There is no guarantee that they will not at some point, just for the sake of hurting us, decide to disconnect us from whatever. Even more so, because we are no longer simply dealing with the ordinary internet that meets our everyday demands, but we are on the verge of the Internet of Things. And the Internet of Things is about technological processes. It is a dangerous thing as it is. If somebody cuts somebody else off, they can essentially stop anything they want. Halt a power plant or flights, anything you can imagine. Therefore, I am sure that this law will not affect the area you mentioned but will instead help us protect our interests. As for the content creators, I think their well-being depends on themselves and how successful they are. Interesting content will find its audience and it can be monetised. Something mediocre will not get any views.

Polina Kastritskaya (TV Centre): Mr Medvedev, you have already spoken on this subject. Indeed, we see that the mechanism of international affairs is changing, what with the sanctions and trade wars. Let’s leave relations with the United States aside. Our relations with the EU have split into separate bilateral tracks, and it can even be said that we are moving forward only in the eastern direction, in particular, in relations with China.

How do you see future development in the world, and what place will Russia hold in it?

Dmitry Medvedev: Actually, I’m an optimist. All will be well, in the historical perspective, but for the time being everything is difficult. Humankind would have long vanished if the historical perspective was not good.

I think that trade wars will end and all kinds of restrictions will be lifted. But we live here and now. You are right in that our relations with the EU, not to mention the United States, are far from good. I have recently met with several EU colleagues, and I told them: “Just look at what you are doing. You have adopted sanctions, but they have hit back at you – your shortfall is estimated at some 100 billion euros, or even 200 billion euros, some say. We have been hit as well. And who stands to gain? You said that we cannot be friends and cannot even communicate properly.” But these problems exist only at the level of the European Commission, while bilateral relations seem to be okay.

It is a strange story, especially since many decisions are taken at the EU headquarters in Brussels; these are collegial decisions that should be binding on all the EU member states.

It is a short-sighted policy, and I am sure that it will eventually end with reconciliation.

I have spoken about trade wars before. We are ready to develop our relations with European countries in the bilateral track as well. This is not difficult at all.

However, I would like to remind everyone that when it all began in 2014, you know, our trade with the EU was considerable, $417 billion, but later it slumped to some $250 billion. Has this benefitted anyone? I keep telling them: “This money cannot be recovered. And money means jobs and business revenue, and hence the incomes of your employees.” Who has this benefitted? It’s all the same to Americans, because our trade with them has not changed and is around $25 billion. They have not lost anything. Our trade is not large, considering the size of the US and Russian economies, but at least they have lost practically nothing, while Europeans have lost half of their revenue.

At the same time, our trade with China has soared. I remember attending talks in Shanghai back in the early 2000s. President Putin was there on a visit, and we discussed the goal of increasing our trade to $10 billion. It looked like a very ambitious goal. Our current trade with China has exceeded $10 billion, and our next goal is $200 billion. This suits us for now, although we believe that trade must be multilateral, and the more countries have trade ties with us, the better for everyone. Therefore, I believe that it is necessary to work up the courage, admit to the errors made, and to start normalising our relations.

The EU and the European Commission have a new team. Its members are not burdened with the previous decisions, in particular, in terms of personal responsibility for them. They have an opportunity to set things straight, if they want to. As we have said more than once, we did not start the war, and so it is not for us to end it. It is for them to announce a truce and use it to go back to normal. 

Alexandra Suvorova: Well, let us continue. I would like to introduce another television channel to you: the Mir interstate TV and radio broadcasting station. It was established in 1992 in order to preserve the single information space of the CIS countries. Today it is, in fact, an international company with its headquarters in Moscow and nine offices in various countries. Elina Dashkuyeva, you have the floor.

In Conversation with Dmitry Medvedev: Interview with Russian television channels

Elina Dashkuyeva (Mir TV and radio station): Thank you. Mr Medvedev, let us discuss relations with our closest neighbours. The 20th anniversary of the Union State is only several days away. How is the integration process with Belarus going? Also, Mr Medvedev, is there news on the Russia-Ukraine gas talks? By the way, you have never said what you think about Vladimir Zelensky. What do you expect from the current President of Ukraine?

Dmitry Medvedev: Thank you. Let us start with Belarus.

Tomorrow, I will meet with the Prime Minister of Belarus to discuss the integration, and on Saturday, President Alexander Lukashenko will come to meet with our President, with members of the Russian Government attending.

Let me go back 20 years. You have mentioned it. It was 1999; I only just began working in a government post. It so happened that I was working at the Government Executive Office, and this treaty was brought to me to make sure that it conformed to Russian laws, etc. Many things have happened over these 20 years. The treaty itself is good; it is a solid regulatory framework for the development of our relations for years to come. But everything has changed: both Russia and Belarus have changed. So we need to review what is working and what is not, what has stood the test of time and what has not.

However, we have the Union State, which is a great asset. We often argue with each other and express grievances, especially during emotional exchanges. Nonetheless, objectively, the level of integration between our countries is very high. I mentioned some trade-related figures, for example, with regard to the United States, which is world’s Number 1 economy. Or Number 2, I’m not sure how to put it better...

Alexandra Suvorova: One of the world’s top economies.

Dmitry Medvedev: Let’s make it Number 2. Our trade with the United States amounts to $25 billion, and it was $27 billion even before the sanctions. Our trade with Belarus is $35 billion. Belarus is a relatively small country. This figure shows the level of our integration. We need to cherish this and do our best to keep this integration intact.

There are some complex matters related to energy and prices... Indeed, every country wants to have certain preferences and advantages for itself. I’m confident that solutions can be found at the government level and the presidential level, if needed.

However, we must see the light at the end of the tunnel and know where we are headed with the integration. They keep telling us that they are not going to give up their sovereignty. There’s no need to give up anything, on the one hand. On the other hand, any integration – and this is a fundamental legal truth – is about a partial decrease in sovereignty. We, too, gave away some of our sovereignty when we formed the Eurasian Union and delegated some of our powers to the supranational level. Any integration involves a reduction in sovereignty. The same thing happened in the EU, because a significant number of issues are resolved in Brussels, not in one of the European capitals.

There’s no need to fear this. All you need to do is take courageous decisions that will allow you to lay a solid foundation for our countries’ economic growth and social development for many years to come.

After all, everyone realises which market offers more opportunities for Belarusian goods. Is it the European market? Who wants to see Belarusian goods in Europe? Nobody does. So, of course, it is the Russian market. And this must be properly appreciated. We, of course, value the Belarusian market as well.

Now, over to Ukraine. This is a different story, much more tragic and complicated. I will not delve into a protracted analysis of what happened there, everyone knows it and we have discussed it on many occasions. If you want to know what I think about the incumbent Ukrainian president, it probably won’t make much sense if I say anything now, because he was elected by the people of Ukraine and enjoys, in general, very wide support of the Ukrainian people. The main thing is, and I said this right after his election, is for him to find enough will and courage to counter the entire range of destructive trends that have formed in the Ukrainian political establishment, in certain layers and circles. In other words, to counter radical nationalism and the desire to turn everything upside down in terms of relations with Russia.

What I mean is that it is obvious that the current president wants to reach an agreement on the key issues related to the development of his country, including with Russia: to find peace and to restore trade and economic relations at a higher level. The question is whether he will manage to do this. An entire range of political forces, leading political forces, have said: that’s enough, we are going to Maidan. We will stand there and shout that we will not surrender an inch of our land or make any decision against Ukraine’s interests. These words seem clear enough. At the same time it is obvious that this is a stranglehold they are trying to get on him to prevent him from leaving the boundaries set by his predecessor. And his predecessor certainly did not want any peace. He represented the “war party,” and the longer this war raged in Ukraine, the better for him. This would have allowed him to stay in power, which he probably counted on. Now they are trying to involve Zelensky in the same plot. Everything depends on him. He has a high level of popular support, and he must understand his responsibility to Ukraine and the Ukrainian people. And everybody knows well that they are no strangers to us.

Alexandra Suvorova: Mr Medvedev, we have Spas next, the first public Orthodox channel. It was launched in 2005. Let’s find out their concern.

Alexander Yakovlev (Spas): It is not about politics. A large renovation of the New Jerusalem Monastery has been completed recently. You personally have made a significant contribution. Are there any similar projects planned? Which church in Russia do you hold especially dear?

Dmitry Medvedev: This question is definitely not about politics; it is good and kind. Although there may also be good questions about politics. The trick is to ask them. This really is a good page in the history of Russia, the renovation of the New Jerusalem Monastery. I was happy to take part in it. It all began more than 10 years ago. I then met with Patriarch Alexy II, and asked which of the landmarks required the most extensive and urgent renovation. He said it was the New Jerusalem stauropegic monastery. When I went there, it looked hideous. It is a unique landmark with an amazing history. It is known that Patriarch Nikon sent his representatives to Jerusalem so that they could copy the design of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, and create such a building in Russia. Unfortunately, it was destroyed during the Great Patriotic War, and the subsequent restorations were not ideal. It has been restored in all its glory. In fact, to that end the state and ordinary people combined their efforts, and this is very valuable. The state could not but provide funding for the renovation, because it was a major architectural landmark of the 17th century. Our country has always used wood in its architecture; wood is short-lived and often catches fire. Therefore, compared to Europe, where stone buildings can stand for a thousand years, we do not have too many architectural monuments. This monastery is all the more valuable to us. At the same time, many business people and other members of the public made their contribution. I think this is very good and the project was truly unifying.

There is another project in which we at the guardian council, together with His Holiness, are taking part in. I am speaking of Solovki. It is also a unique place for our country, both a memorial and a religious site. Our objective is to recreate it. Things are complicated by the fact that there is an inhabited locality nearby which we need to renovate. This is a complicated and expensive process, but I am sure that we will do it. Such sites are the spiritual foundations of our country.

The second part of your question is quite personal. I will say this: each church-goer, regardless of the confession, values the churches that are connected to their personal history. To me, it is the church where I was baptised, where my son was baptised and where other important events took place. Such churches are especially dear to us. But, of course, a church is a church.

Alexandra Suvorova: I will make the question more specific. Russia is a multireligious country. Are there plans to implement any other projects, besides the construction of monasteries and the restoration of churches?

Dmitry Medvedev: We take part in the renovation of monasteries and churches as a state because these are valuable architectural landmarks. Russia is indeed a multireligious country, and in fact, we are doing the same regarding the places of worship of other religions, for instance, Buddhist temples: a datsan that was burnt down is currently being renovated with the participation of the state. I am aware that projects to restore the temples for the Islamic faith followers are also underway. These temples are located in different parts of our country, and the state budget is also participating in this. It all depends on the value of a particular temple, regardless of its confessional affiliation, and the approach is equal here.

Alexandra Suvorova: We have discussed the economy and foreign policy, and even raised religious issues. Let's move on to other topics. Channel Five is next. By the way, it is believed that the Leningrad television’s origins date all the way back to 1938.

Vitaly Voronin (Channel Five): Mr Medvedev, we are summing up the results of the outgoing year. The situation in primary care was one of the most memorable and important events in the outgoing year. Working conditions and wages came under a lot of discussion. In addition, there were several high-profile scandals with doctors resigning from their jobs. In the autumn, the Ministry of Healthcare announced its preparations for a reform. When do you think we will see visible primary care reform results and how do you envisage them?

Dmitry Medvedev: Thank you. This is an exceptionally important question. First, I will share some emotional background information with you. We have been improving our healthcare for quite a while now. Clearly, those who do not want to see transformations will not see them, but those who remember the condition our hospitals, outpatient clinics and especially high-tech medical care were in understand very well that the situation has improved a lot. When I first engaged in the first national healthcare project back in 2006, the total number of people who had access to high-tech medical procedures and surgeries was about 100,000. However, the number of patients was about the same as now. Where did they go for medical help? It was either nowhere or abroad. Now, we are making about a million high-tech surgeries a year. This is a very good result. It is also very good that a significant portion of the people never need a high-tech operation, or need one later in life. However, every year, and often every month, they go see a doctor at an outpatient clinic, a district hospital, or a rural health centre, and the situation there is fairly complicated. At some point Vladimir Putin and I shared our thoughts on this topic. He happened to talk with the residents of a small village. I discussed this subject during my trips around the country as well. Of course, the overall situation in primary care in a number of regions is appalling, and something needs to be done to improve it. So, we decided to supplement our medical project with improvements in primary care, because this is where almost everyone is going for medical help. In Moscow, it is more or less acceptable. There probably are some imperfections, but Moscow is Moscow. However, if you go 100-150 kilometres away from the city, the situation changes completely and untidy and dirty buildings are all you will see. I have photos posted on my social media account almost daily with one question: what kind of a medical institution is that? This is sad. So, we must invest in primary care. My point is that we must build new buildings or do major repairs of existing ones, because treating people in a barn is not an option. It is plain impossible. Of course, we will also need to purchase more medical equipment, although we have been buying it in recent years, but we still need to purchase more. This is a critical area, and we will need to combine our efforts and each region will need to make their contribution.

We crunched the numbers and saw that we will need about 550 billion roubles over the next several years to reform and improve primary care. So far, we have been contemplating a period of five years. We know from experience that this figure is likely to increase. That’s just how it is. But we should not be tight-fisted here, because this is exactly the care that each person comes in contact with, and all basic medical services are provided here as well.

Of course, no medicine or primary care goes without a doctor. So, the second half of this task includes improving the medical service quality and, of course, the standing of the primary care doctors. They don’t get paid much and often work in very difficult circumstances. This matter is also on our agenda, and we will definitely address it. Primary care is an exceptionally important area.

You mentioned doctors’ resignations. Here is what I have to say about that. I am not going to analyse each specific situation now, there were several cases, and I am not going to judge who was right and who was to blame. Everyone has their own truth. I will say only one thing: what matters here is patients’ interests. Everything else needs to be set aside, including ambitions, hurt feelings and the like. The interests of the recipients of medical services matter most. The Ministry of Healthcare and all those who are in charge of the situation in healthcare were told so unambiguously.

Yelena Vinnik (Channel One): I would like to continue the topic of healthcare but from a slightly different angle, and once again talk about patients’ interests. We noticed that this year some essential and life-sustaining drugs have been disappearing from pharmacies. First, one medicine disappeared, then another. First there was a shortage in one region, then in another. Prednisolone, insulin… You personally had to get involved in solving this issue. Some are blaming import substitution. They say that our own pharmaceutical companies simply overestimated their capacities. Others say that the state control of prices is the actual cause and it simply makes production of these drugs unprofitable. Where, in your opinion, did we go wrong?

Dmitry Medvedev: This topic resonates with many. It is very important because absolutely everybody has to deal with medication sometimes. There is no person who has never had to take drugs in their life. In fact, in the past few years, we have tried to spare no expense on subsidising medication as we got this economic opportunity. This year alone, we have allocated 150 billion roubles from the budget on providing free medication. Next year, we plan to spend extra 25 billion, or 175 billion roubles in total. I mean, we have the money. The problem is actually converting this money into medicines. And besides the financial aspect, we also have a specific list of essential and life-saving drugs approved by the Government – by your humble servant – and this list is expanding every year. It used to contain 500 items and now contains 760, I think. So, one would think, everything is fine. But, as you correctly noted, in some cases drugs are disappearing. Of course, there are both objective and subjective reasons. I would not blame our import substitution policy. Obviously, import substitution was not meant to cut off people’s access to some foreign-made medication. This would simply be unacceptable and inhumane – basically, impossible. We intended to make these drugs cheaper. We can produce drugs, one hundred percent. In the past year, our pharmaceutical industry has grown by 18 percent, I think. It is a fast-growing and extremely important industry. By the way, drug security is one of the priorities of our national security. Once again, we want to make sure that nobody cuts us off here, either. Now, you mentioned prednisolone. We produce ten drugs based on its formula under international nonproprietary names. The quality of these drugs is another story. People often assume that foreign drugs worked and ours do not. Here we need to actually look into what works and what does not work, consult with experts and so on. Secondly, you mentioned state regulation of prices, which is also a complicated issue, and we need to make this regulation more flexible. Just recently, I signed a Government resolution that is supposed to make things easier. What happens now? Prices need to be constantly re-registered. And why are we doing this? Not because officials want extra work, but because if we do not do this, prices will shoot up. So we are pushing them down. In some cases, manufacturers do not want to work under these conditions. We need to find a compromise. In other words, this is an ongoing job.

And the last point I would like to make, for everyone to hear me. No one wanted any imported drugs to disappear from pharmacies. State procurement is a different story – it involves drugs needed for medical services, clinics, hospitals. There we try to support domestic producers – when they make quality medicines. But pharmacies have to offer the entire range.

There is one subtle aspect, however. We definitely need to encourage foreign companies to stay with us, even if the market is declining. Buyers need to have the entire range on offer; they should be able to choose from different drugs with the same formula. It is up to each individual what they buy, if they are paying for medicine.

We will try to adjust this so that there are fewer disruptions or, if possible, none at all.

Alexander Yevstigneyev: Mr Medvedev, here is more on what I see as a vital topic. The banned ISIS terrorist organisation is almost defeated. However, children continue to be brought from Syria and Iraq – children of Russian citizens who took their daughters and sons there when they were younger, or children they had there. And we could face a real time bomb. These children have been brainwashed. An absolutely inhuman ideology. I am not talking about Islam. It is the ideology they have been taught there. We can actually get what Europe sees now, where the children of the first-wave immigrants who arrived there, or even the children of second- and third- wave immigrants who have been educated in Europe, adopt extreme views and do what they do. What will we do with our children in this case?

Dmitry Medvedev: I will begin by saying, perhaps, the obvious thing. But it still seems true to me. They are children all the same. Even though they were raised in such conditions. And we must take this into account.

It is no secret that some European countries, in fact, have openly said: we do not need these children, even citizens of our countries. I am not going to discuss this position now; it was announced almost openly. But you are right in that in some cases they grew up in absolutely horrible psychological, moral and sometimes physical conditions. And they absorbed the man-hating ideology of the Islamic State, or Daesh, as they say in Europe. Some of their textbooks are only about assault rifles, sights, and so on. In other words, these children were taught to kill from a very early age. This is horrible. But if we decide to take them in, we must have individual comprehensive rehabilitation schemes for each of them. Such children must not be left to their own devices, or else we will have the same thing that Europe is going through. This is a job for the state.

Yelena Spiridonova: Mr Medvedev, I would like to speak about a very popular subject that concerns every one of us – rubbish collection.

The implementation of the so-called rubbish reform began on 1 January. Those who are responsible for it say that it is not a reform, because there is nothing to reform, but the development of an entirely new sector of waste management. The Government is facing an ambitious task: to enhance the level of recycling and to shut down all the landfill sites within the city limits.

How is the reform proceeding in the regions? Are there any difficulties? And have we managed to prevent unjustified price hikes for the people? All of us remember that it was a priority goal. Yet we now see reports saying that prices are completely groundless and differ from one region to the next, even when these are neighbouring regions. And what is the reason for the early dismissal of the head of the Russian Environmental Operator, an entity that has been created to coordinate this reform?

Dmitry Medvedev: Let’s begin with the term. The rubbish reform sounds depressing. We prefer to use a different name. Of course, it’s not the terms that really matter, but they are sometimes important as well. It is a comprehensive industry that practically all the industrialised economies have, which has to do with the methods of recycling solid household waste and the environmental aspects of this activity. As you said correctly, we did not have such an industry before. In Soviet times, all the rubbish went to landfill sites and was then buried. We are now creating this industry, and the process is not simple at all. First, it involves major outlays. Second, people are not always happy that waste recycling takes place right around the corner. We need to walk a careful line between two extremes. On the one hand, we must utilise waste, and on the other hand, people should feel comfortable with this. We must build waste recycling plants and new waste sorting facilities. We never gave this a thought, whereas many countries have had this for decades. Five bins, each for a different kind of waste. We will have to learn to do this, and it will be our personal contribution to environmental protection and the health of the nation. If we do not do this now, our rubbish heaps will continue to grow. We must do it even if some people are not happy with the idea.

You also said correctly that we had some doubts regarding prices, that they can increase and hit people’s wallets. This is exactly what has happened in some places, yet we managed to prevent large price hikes, sometimes by applying hands-on management and adjusting some of our decisions. Otherwise the people would have continued complaining. The situation has stabilised. This means that the waste management prices are more or less acceptable. Sometimes we give out some compensation, and other times we provide additional assistance, but by and large, the prices are acceptable.

Since I am responsible for the Government’s performance, it was very important for me to give the right signals to the regions. This was not simple, and sometimes we were told that it was Moscow’s idea and so we had to implement it ourselves. However, we understand that the federal government does not have to take decisions regarding each and every rubbish bin in a region. It is for the regions themselves or municipalities to keep their territories clean and to tell the people where to bring their rubbish for subsequent recycling. We will be helping. It is a long-term programme, and it involves 300 billion roubles in investment until 2024. But it must be implemented individually in each region, each city and each village, because otherwise we will not get anywhere. I hope that our colleagues – the governors and heads of municipalities – are aware of this and are closely monitoring the process. It is something of crucial importance. We must live in a clean country, and ours is a beautiful country.

Regarding the head of the Russian Environmental Operator, there is no special reason [for his dismissal] save one. As far as I know, the colleagues in the Government who are directly responsible for this process – there are several of them – were dissatisfied with the speed of decision-making at the company. We have never had such a company before. These colleagues would like it to act more energetically. We’ll see how it goes. After all, there are good professionals there. I hope the company will gather momentum.

Nadezhda Alyoshkina (REN TV): My question is also about one of the most high-profile and widely discussed subjects. Mr Medvedev, do you think we need to pass a law on domestic violence?

Dmitry Medvedev: Well, the topic is high-profile indeed. It is being discussed and criticised, as the saying goes, from left and right. Let’s outline several points that are, in my view, important. If people talk about this, if there is a debate, and, most importantly, if people complain, it means that domestic violence does exist, that it has not been invented by journalists, nor inspired by enemies, and that this topic exists in reality. The question is: How should we respond to it? This, incidentally, is recognised by all participants in the debate.

Second. At some point – I think it was two years ago – amendments were introduced to Article 116 of the Criminal Code. Also, an additional article appeared, which, as lawyers say, decriminalised so-called family battery. Many people believe – let me emphasise: many people believe – that this has made the situation worse, not better. Both ordinary people, and experts, and law enforcement think so. Anyway, I think that in the 21st century no one can derive consolation from the formula “beating your wife is a sign of love.” This hardly looks serious in the world of today. Therefore, we must respond to this in some way.

The response can be different in form. A bill has been drafted and, naturally, it is being criticised as well. Let me put it bluntly: I have no final position on this bill either. It seems to contain some interesting changes that were suggested, for example, warnings to be served by official agencies, or the police, or the courts. A number of rules have been borrowed from other countries’ legislation, where people, who were once a family, are not allowed within a certain distance of each other so as to avoid provoking a conflict. The problem is how to verify it and whether there is no manipulation, something the critics of this bill talk about. On the other hand, there is neither criminal, nor administrative liability in the fabric of this bill, and this also brings up the question as to whether it is needed there or not, especially since we are now drafting amendments to, or rather a new version of the administrative code, the Code of Administrative Offenses, where this corpus delicti may appear. In general, all of this should be analysed in detail, with the advantages and disadvantages discussed and all those involved given a hearing. But it is quite clear that this problem exists. The question is how the government should respond to it.

Alexandra Suvorova: Let us go over to sports. I think that, given the latest news that we all watch…

Dmitry Medvedev: It’s high time we talked about sports.   

Konstantin Genich (Match TV): Mr Medvedev, it would probably be nice to talk about something positive – about sports for children and young people or public sports, but unfortunately we have another episode in the “Doping” drama. Regrettably, on 9 December, as you know, WADA will hold a meeting of its Executive Committee at which it is likely to make a disappointing decision for the Russian Federation.

The WADA Compliance Review Committee (CRC) found considerable changes in the data base of the Moscow laboratory and advised the WADA Executive Committee to remove the Russian Federation, that is, Russian athletes and sports officials from participating in international competitions for the next four years. The ban applies not only to the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo and the 2022 Olympics in Beijing, but also all international competitions, including any world championships that Russia may host. It applies to world hockey and volleyball championships and the 2023 Universiad.

I will not go into details. Many of our colleagues at various channels have discussed this issue and Match TV, certainly, has not ignored it either. Maybe, only Carousel TV didn’t discuss it.

Our Sports Minister Pavel Kolobkov is a famous Olympic champion. I think both he and you understand perfectly well that a whole generation of honest, clean and talented Russian athletes will be held out of sports. How should Russia respond if this decision is adopted in Lausanne on 9 December? And what should we do to prevent the use of the words “Russia” and “doping” in the same sentence?

Dmitry Medvedev: Naturally, I have very conflicting feelings about this situation. I have already expressed my opinion on it. Do we have a doping problem? Yes, we do and this is unacceptable considering the general approaches to the development of sports in the modern world. By the way, do you know what words are often used in this regard? It seems unacceptable at the level of slogans but is okay when it comes to the specific work with a specific athlete. Plus, in the final analysis, this is also the athlete’s responsibility; so he or she must make a decision.

I think we must still take a tougher position on those who decide to use preparations with the understanding that the final responsibility still rests with the athlete and his or her doctor. This is the first point.

Now the second one. Everything related to this doping scandal reminds me of the endless anti-Russia TV series: decision – punishment – removal.  Then they get worried again: “Let’s look at the same lists and tests again. What if we missed something? We will make them responsible again and in some cases spread this responsibility to other athletes without considering actual guilt.”

But you understand that any offense can be committed (and the use of doping is an offense under sports regulations) by someone who is guilty. To use legalese, if a person did not know and could not know that he/she is using doping, he/she should not be held responsible.

Incidentally, the CAS held this position awhile back. Do you remember? Other organisations did not accept it, but the CAS kept an objective position. I am referring to the Court of Arbitration for Sport. So, it is possible that the decision will be fairly complicated for our country. Naturally, our sports authorities – the Ministry of Sport and others – have been instructed to fight for our interests, for the interests of every athlete, for the opportunity for athletes to take part in sport competitions.

The problem has two parts. Of course, we must continue efforts to fight doping in Russia because we do have problems. But what about other countries? Are they guiltless? This is what irritates me the most. We know all the examples but they hide guilty athletes under the table and lash out at us. It is perfectly obvious that this is linked with the general political situation, but nevertheless, we must work on it. We must also fight for the interests of our athletes and we are fighting for them. We will have to wait and see what happens in the end.

Nadezhda Alyoshkina: Now a less serious subject. Mr Medvedev, we know that you are fond of music and sports and we have the following question: What unconventional, creative forms of work do you use in dealing with your cabinet of ministers? And what is the limit of your experiments?

Dmitry Medvedev: Well, physical abuse is unacceptable, if you’re talking unconventional. Seriously, this is a big team, my comrades. We all meet from time to time and discuss how things are. Very often (I’ll tell you a secret) I leave only Government members at the end of a meeting. There are no media or TV channels; I ask everyone else, all the guests, to leave, after words of gratitude for their participation. So, I explain to my colleagues what the “party policy” is, to use a Soviet expression. In other words, I talk about some individual problems with their work.

Speaking about other approaches, it is certainly important to maintain team spirit. We meet regularly at various platforms. There is the Sberbank University: a useful place where a lot of interesting seminars and discussions have been held; it involves collective work, communication, teambuilding, as they say now. There is Skolkovo. We even celebrate our colleagues’ birthdays together sometimes. So I believe in this sense we have an excellent team spirit and mutual understanding in the Government. I can see this,  even in comparison with some other examples I know of.

Everyone goes in for sport, too. I hope they don’t use doping beforehand. I work out every morning, too, because it is impossible to be fully prepared for non-stop work, all day long without a fairly full and extensive training. And we all have a long working day.

This is why I believe that every Government member should do this, and not just every Government member but every Russian citizen. This is what our programme is aimed at. This is about sports.

Music is also good. I’ve been listening to music since childhood; I like music. And my tastes have changed, too. As a teenager, I only liked rock music. At school, I listened to the music that was forbidden, against the rules back then. Later life changed, and all kinds of music were allowed. So my tastes began to change. I became more tolerant towards other music genres and began to listen to classical music and jazz. I think I have said that I even carry out certain routine tasks while listening to music; it does not bother me. I think it is okay. Music can bother some people, but not me.

I will not list the bands here, because everyone already knows them. Sometimes people come to me and say: here is an LP for you. And I think: where can I put it? I have a huge number of records already. All the same, thank you everyone who remembers.

Alexandra Suvorova: Now to the CTC television channel. Its audience is diverse, because it broadcasts both Russian and foreign series, sketch shows and just shows. Today Yulia Mikhalkova represents two channels: CTC and Domashny.

Yulia Mikhalkova (CTC, Domashny): Mr Medvedev, I would like to ask about working with young people. There are 12 national projects adopted for 2018–2024. I looked through several of them: the scale is breathtaking. I think there is a problem with informing young people, because in their mediums – YouTube, Instagram and TikTok – the national projects are hardly being discussed. Are there plans to involve young people in these global topics? Perhaps you will involve some famous bloggers or media figures.

Dmitry Medvedev: I am already involving media figures: here they are. Including quite popular ones. I think that, speaking about the national projects – and this is a very important topic – all genres are good except the boring ones, as they say. It is obvious that young people do not receive official information very well; they find it boring to consume. But this does not mean that young people are not interested in it. The question is, in what language the communication is happening, including on such important topics as youth programmes and national projects in general, where and in what form. It is very important to use all possible options. But this should be done smartly, without making it a burden: read this and think about it. This should be easily accessible. In the end, if someone gets interested in these topics, they will not only be able to go to YouTube or other social media (although this must happen and happens already) but also to reputable channels, represented here, to find out more. Or go to a website and watch a specific programme. This depends on each person’s needs. But this work is necessary.

Anna Tadyshchenko (Karusel): Mr Medvedev, today’s school curriculum is different from what it used to be. We solve puzzles at school, and my mum says they didn’t do this. I explained to her how to solve puzzles. This means that children can teach adults, too. Has your son taught you anything? And another question: what book do you think all children should read?

Dmitry Medvedev: By the way, we also had puzzles when I was a child, which was long ago, although we did not solve them as homework. Are puzzles given as homework now?

Anna Tadyshchenko: No, we just solve them at school.

Dmitry Medvedev: Do you mean you solve puzzles in class rather than during a break? 

Anna Tadyshchenko: That’s right.

In Conversation with Dmitry Medvedev: Interview with Russian television channels

Dmitry Medvedev: We didn’t have this in my time. How far have things advanced! I don’t think there’s anything wrong with it since solving puzzles helps train the intellect.

Now let’s move on to your question. All people should learn from one another. Children should learn to do good things from adults and adults should learn from children. We often take different views of the same situation in life but looking at it from a different angle tends to broaden your perspective.  

You mentioned my son. I remember when I first showed him a computer – this was a long time ago, almost 20 years ago, when he was still a little boy, even younger than you are now – even my family criticised me for giving a computer to a child. Why am I saying this? First, he watched what I was doing – and back then I knew a lot about things like that. Five or six years later, when he was your age, he knew more about some things than I did, even though I tried to keep up with developments in technology as new computer models replaced one another – while his sheer intuition allowed him to have a better and finer sense of these things because he acquired these skills in his childhood. Of course, we should try to reach our children’s level in this sense.

We came across a serious problem when we launched a school reform 12 years ago and we had neither computers nor the internet. I remember that Bill Gates visited us at that time and I told him that our objective was to connect 60,000 schools in various parts of Russia to the internet. There were a bit more schools at that time and the network had to be built on a larger scale. It was clear that I was not talking about broadband internet but about the ordinary fixed-line and low-speed internet. He said that this was a very ambitious objective and asked me how we were going to achieve it. But we did achieve it. I remember it worried me that teachers, especially older teachers who were not well versed in these things, would enter a classroom where the students were really good at it. Why am I talking about this? It is important to keep learning the best things from everyone who has these skills, including children.

It is important to read books. The most important thing is that you have the want to read them. There is no need to idealise the past. In any case, I was, probably, an ordinary child, who learned to read pretty early as a two-year-old, but I only read books if my parents made me do it. I remember the feeling when I got really caught up in a book. It was Jules Verne’s novel, In Search of the Castaways. Essentially, this was the first book that captivated me and drew me into the world of books. I recommend you read it. It’s a good book about adventures. There are also plenty of films and other good things but books are something special. Of course, we should read books by classical and modern authors at any age. What books do you read?  

Anna Tadyshchenko: I am now reading A Cat for Luck by Tamara Kryukova.

Dmitry Medvedev: Good that you have an answer ready. A good book?

Anna Tadyshchenko: Yes, very interesting.

Dmitry Medvedev: I have not read it... everyone should find their first book, and it will open the way to the world of books.

It does not matter if it’s a book or an e-reader – I have repeatedly said this. It’s nice to hold a paper book in your hand, but I use electronic books with pleasure. On the plus side, with an e-reader, one can read five books at a time, and if you want to read five books, say, on a business trip, you will need to take them with you. That’s not easy.

Alexandra Suvorova: Well, let’s now move from the new school to the ‘old school,’ if I may.

Muz TV is the only music channel that is represented here today, and there is an interesting fact that last year the channel set a record in the Russian Book of Records after a 22-hour broadcast of an entertainment music show.

Andrei Razygrayev, you have the floor. I hope it will be a little shorter than 22 hours.

Andrei Razygrayev (Muz TV channel): Thank you very much. I also hope that our event today will be a little shorter than that.

As a representative of the national music channel available in multiplex on channel 20 in every TV in the country, I probably have to ask you about your musical preferences, but my colleagues from REN-TV have stolen my thunder. And everyone probably knows the answer as you have often talked about this.

So, I would like to say that we are closely monitoring the interests of our audience, our viewers, and lately we have seen a huge surge of interest in everything 1990s. This romantic and adventurous decade seems to be in vogue again – in fashion, design, and certainly music, too.

So I actually have a personal question for you, Mr Medvedev, if you please. You talked about a historical perspective, and said we will have a promising history. But suppose you had the opportunity to return to the 1990s for one day and change only one thing – what would it be?

Dmitry Medvedev: You know it is impossible to return to the past. Even though each of us might think about it, and muse over how interesting it would be to be there again – because human memory is arranged this way. The 1990s are now history and have acquired a romantic feel. Life was difficult then, frankly. There were a lot of different problems. It does not seem quite right for me to discuss what I could have done if, for example, I were in a relevant position at that time. This is just wrong, because the circumstances were different, and my predecessors and other people tried to do their best. So I would rather not talk about it. But the interest in that period is normal. Those were difficult, but very important years in the development of our country. The country lived through hard times, but this doesn’t mean that nothing interesting happened.

You run a music channel. In the 1990s, in fact, we became suddenly inspired by the whole musical world. You don’t remember this, but I remember how I had to go to the deputy director for discipline who was to approve the playlist I was going to play at a school disco. And she would say: “Well, what have you got here? Take this one out, now.” Do I need to say that such music was not available on the radio or on TV? This was impossible to imagine. And in the 1990s, in an instant, this whole picture opened up in all its diversity and brightness – foreign musicians, and Russian musicians. And many things are still relevant, and interesting, and this is only natural. But I would not change anything. In the 1990s, many tough events took place, but also many important ones. And in my personal life, a most important event took place in 1995 – my son was born. So what is there to change? Everything is fine.

Oksana Galkevich (OTR): Let’s move from the romantic 1990s to another period in history. Mr Medvedev, at Public Television of Russia we see studying and monitoring public opinion and how people feel as our core mission. You said this was important at the beginning of this conversation. The Soviet Union ceased to exist 30 years ago, and since then Russian society has been overwhelmed with nostalgia towards anything related to Soviet times and the Soviet Union. Not long ago we asked our audience during the live morning and evening broadcasts of a television programme called Otrazhenie (Reflection) whether they would like to live in the Soviet Union. The response from the audience was incredibly lively with 92 percent giving an affirmative answer both in the morning and in the evening, which are two very different audiences.

Having referred to these numbers, I could have stopped at that. But we get instant feedback from our viewers because these are call-in shows. People can also send us text messages and explain why they think this way. If we sum up the reasons they put forward, the first will be that at the time people felt confident about their future. They were not afraid of tomorrow, to lose a job, income or anything else. The second reason was the accessible and free healthcare offered in the Soviet Union. The third reason revolves around education. It was also free. Many people said that people interacted with each other in a different manner back then. In other words, you could leave your key under a doormat. Some also said that there was no social inequality or income gap. This kind of a response would not be surprising if it had come from adults with a certain social standing who lived in the Soviet era and remember it. But there were also many young people in the audience as well.

We had a man who called in saying that he would like to live in the Soviet Union. When asked how old he was, he said 25.

I don’t know how our colleagues here would reply, but this is not what I wanted to ask you. I wanted to know your opinion of what is behind this sentiment? Where does it come from?

Dmitry Medvedev: Let me share my perspective on what underpins this kind of sentiment. For my generation and older people, this is how human memory works. I have already raised this point.

We tend to remember only the best from the time we were young. People would find it difficult to get by, if they could not put the bad things behind them. This would have been devastating for them. So people tend to paint a rosy picture of their past. I also remember these years. This was an important and interesting period in my life. I was a student at the time. In fact, there were a lot of positive things in the Soviet Union. There is no doubt about that. However, we have to be careful about nostalgia for the Soviet past. The Soviet Union was a fraught state. So young people have been telling you that they want to study in the Soviet Union? Why? Store shelves were empty, or they want to spend time queuing for a pair of boots? Many of you here cannot even imagine how it was. I am referring to you, by the way. There was almost nothing, even in Leningrad. Yes, there were social guarantees, and we have to be mindful of that and maybe even use some of this experience today.

But we should not romanticise these guarantees either. You mentioned healthcare. It is true that healthcare services were free, but what matters even more is what kind of services people could get. I remember health check-ups in school for example. All they did was measure my height and weigh me. This is how it worked. In a way, things were really rational. It is also true that the education system was quite good, and we definitely need to adopt some of its approaches.

That said, the Soviet Union should not be idealised. Let me be straight. Most of today’s youth would not be able to live there. But when people read of others’ memoires they see a romantic past, and these were romantic years, even when I was growing up, let alone the 1950s and 1960s. This is how this kind of sentiment grows. It is clear to me that this environment would be really uncomfortable for today’s youth.

. And it is impossible to turn back time, for that matter. We need to move on. But on no account must we cross it out. The Soviet Union is our history, a controversial but very important history.

Alexandra Suvorova: Going back to the events not so long ago, the events that happened just recently, we can see that the mood of our society is changing – at least in Moscow. Last summer, there was a wave of protests, starting with the Moscow City Duma elections. We remember actor Pavel Ustinov’s arrest and journalist Ivan Golunov’s case. Why do you think such public sentiments developed at this particular time? Perhaps it was the government that influenced the public attitude?

Dmitry Medvedev: If there is a certain public sentiment, evidently, something triggered it. For obvious reasons, there is no point in analysing the legal aspects of the cases you mentioned, although I followed the developments. Clearly, there were certain shortfalls in the conduct of law enforcement, and they need to be taken into consideration. Perhaps we even need to make some changes. But in general, that triggered a strong demand for justice. This demand, among others, boiled over into various campaigns, which in itself is probably completely normal. There is only one thing. We all understand very well that it is impossible to resolve these kinds of problems on social media or on public squares. People can speak out – and it is absolutely normal. But speaking out should still be done in the manner prescribed by existing regulations. No matter how many times they say that they submitted the paperwork but they still got rejected… You may like or not like the law, but you must obey it. Otherwise we could sink into very dangerous situations that could become a huge problem in our country. What is the yellow vest protests in France could, in theory, erupt into a revolt here in Russia that would be nonsensical and ruthless. The government must always keep this in mind. At the same time, any legally authorised activity, including any activity related to expressing one’s views, is acceptable and even necessary. The government must pick up on the mood of society. When it comes to individual cases – you only mentioned a couple – they require thorough dissection. There is no abstract justice here. It is absolutely concrete. 

Alexandra Suvorova: We have talked about returning to the culture of the past: in the 1990s and the Soviet Union. But what are our interests in culture today? Culture TV Channel, Yana Miroi.

Yana Miroi (Rossiya K): My question will certainly be about culture. There is a paradox in the field of culture. It is common knowledge that our producers, artists, conductors and musicians are in demand abroad. They are highly valued and well paid. Meanwhile, in this country graduates of art universities find it hard to get a job in their specialty. Even our leading universities are talking about this problem.

Mr Medvedev, this problem was discussed at your meeting at the GITIS Academy of Theatre Art. This question was also raised when the President visited the VGIK University of Cinematography. It was also discussed at the cultural forum you attended. In other words, this is a fairly urgent problem. Do you think it can be resolved?

Dmitry Medvedev: This is a problem. Though you said our graduates are in demand there… This is true and not quite true at the same time. Let’s be honest: there is a demand for stars. As for all graduates, there is no guarantee that an ordinary Russian graduate who goes abroad to get a job in the arts will achieve more there than here. Maybe, in some places the conditions are better than in this country, but they might also be worse. The state is obliged to monitor all these processes. And, of course, we must do everything we can for our graduates to find employment. To my knowledge, about three quarters of all graduates still get jobs related to their specialty. But this is a subtle matter. We all understand that the creative professions are fraught with failure. Someone wants to be in the arts but it doesn’t work out. We recalled the Soviet Union. Its education system was fairly good. Let’s be honest: the number of graduates of creative universities was a lot smaller than now and probably not only because the Soviet Union was a tough ideology-driven state. Yet it was still possible to properly teach all these professions of artist, painter or dancer. I was simply surprised to learn – my colleagues told me – that creative professions, the same art-related professions as before, are now taught at classical universities in our country. I can hardly imagine that my alma mater – St Petersburg State University – offers courses for performers. It simply doesn’t have teaching staff for this. But in a good way it is certainly necessary to support all this, to offer students grants and monitor whether graduates got jobs. I cannot argue against this.

Nikolai Matveyev (Zvezda): Mr Medvedev, there is a question that interests me personally and our television audience. I will continue the issue of abroad. According to polls, every fifth young Russian wants to leave Russia. This was quoted in a Gallup poll. Even if this figure is deliberately exaggerated the problem still exists. We teach the best specialists for Western corporations. Take Sergei Brin, who left early with his parents. He founded Google and lives in the United States. Konstantin Novoselov, a Nobel Prize winner, a physicist, lives in Britain. There are many examples, thousands of scientists and IT experts all over the world. They even say in the United States: an American university is a place where a Russian scientist teaches Chinese students.

What can be done about this? There are different proposals. Some experts believe it is necessary to contract graduates at a certain place for five or six years. Opposing them, others recall the words of Alexander III, when it was suggested that the wings of swans should be cut to make them stay he said: “Feed them better and they won’t fly away.” It was suggested that their wings be cut before they left for the winter.

In this context I would like to ask you a question: What measures is the Government working on to make graduates feel it’s better to stay home? Is there a system of student loans on easy terms, a system of grants for scientific clusters?

Dmitry Medvedev: Any cutting should be done carefully. By the way, as for the quote you mentioned… usually these words are ascribed to Alexander II rather than Alexander III. Apparently, he didn’t say this, but the phrase was mentioned on a television ad and ascribed to Alexander II. Well, this is how tall tales appear.

You are right. It is necessary to monitor these processes. The intention to leave as such is not reprehensible. The question is why and to what extent. If someone just wants to see the world and earn some extra money, we cannot keep them at home. But obviously we must do everything we can for scientists and specialists to stay here. According to statistics, 58,000 people left the country last year, with 95 percent of them left for less than half a year. Maybe, some of them will stay abroad longer but this is still mainly a temporary move. Only a very small number of people planned to move abroad forever but it is not certain they will stay there. Nevertheless, you are right: everything should be done for people to stay here, especially the specialists we teach. We have grants for this purpose. We are increasing their number and scale, and award bonuses.

It is also necessary to resolve everyday problems. Young scientists often tell me: Recently our salaries seem to be higher and flats are given as a benefit. I personally helped promote a housing programme for young scientists at the Academy of Sciences, and it is being carried out fairly well now. But the issue is not limited to salaries and housing. Give us test-tubes! Loosely speaking this is what they need because access to equipment is much worse here than there. If a scientist orders something there, it is delivered to him from a lab in three days. This process takes months in this country. This is a very important part of it. Now we have a separate national project “Science.” A fairly large amount of money, about 300 billion rubles has been invested in it. 

Dmitry Medvedev: We need to do everything to improve the material and technical base of Russian science, and then people will stay here to work.

Alexandra Suvorova: Let’s move on to TNT, an entertainment channel. The Comedy Club has been broadcast here for 16 years. This question is from Timur Batrutdinov.

c (TNT): Good afternoon Mr Prime Minister. I have been delegated from TNT channel, most likely because I’m part of a well-known tandem in our country, just as you are. And in our tandem, I usually play the part of you, so that you can understand why I am asking this question, not Igor Kharlamov.

Recently, the competition between the internet and television, the struggle for the audience, has become very fierce. Who do you think wins this fight?

Dmitry Medvedev: Am I right in understanding that Kharlamov will go to another news conference to be held soon, won’t he?

Timur Batrutdinov: You are absolutely right.

Dmitry Medvedev: Now about the dilemma that you mentioned. This is a really serious challenge for television. I began talking about this while working in the Presidential Executive Office 15-17 years ago, that we would face this dilemma. I mean everyone: the television community, the government and the people.

What’s more important – this is a philosophical question. Look, television is certainly very important. As for the depth of penetration... no matter how much television, including Russian television, is criticised, sometimes absolutely unreasonably and sometimes deservedly, viewership penetration of television is still higher.

If we are talking about the mobility of information sources, if we are talking about the target audience, the internet has no rival, because anyone can find anything they want, a special resource.

There is another issue: after all, the responsibility of a full-blown media is special, so a significant part of the news or almost all the news generated by those sitting at this table is verified news. It rarely happens that they sue your channel and say: “So, look, what have you done?” Of course, it happens, but very rarely. As for the internet, the situation is fundamentally different. In some cases, the degree of verification is almost nonexistent, but it is possible to simulate, fabricate an event, and stream it, the thing our colleague across the ocean calls “fake news.” But this is a real story. So, both environments are important.

Now back to my room. I use the internet more, but not because I don’t watch TV. Just for obvious reasons, it is easier for me to surf my phone or watch the same news on the computer. But this is the specificity of my work. I’m sure that these proportions will remain, give or take. And the last thing I would like to say on this matter. As you know well, a lot of internet technologies, finds and creative solutions penetrate TV. Obviously, the internet also owes its high-quality content, as television people say, to television producers to a large extent. Because it is here, including your channels, that such high-quality content appears, and then it appears in the internet environment. So friendship wins. 

Alexandra Suvorova: Well, there’s one more TV channel that hasn’t had the chance to ask a question yet. It was also founded in St Petersburg, but it’s not the Fifth Channel; it was founded a little later, in 1994. TV-3 Channel is represented by Valery Fedorovich.

Valery Fedorovich (TV-3): Good afternoon. My question is fairly complicated, as we continue to discuss the content and, in particular, the fact that copyright holders have been actively trying to protect their content from online piracy over the past several years. This is all happening despite the fact that there’s an evolving legislative framework and Roskomnadzor is actively blocking the websites in question. Pirates successfully forward high quality content that we are supposed to be running on television. All of it is available online. This applies to films as well. Do you think the current system is effective, or what can be done to ultimately eradicate online piracy?

Dmitry Medvedev: The system is not effective, I’ll say that straight. But it has become better. At some point, it was unable to stand against piracy.

By the way, I met with the head of the World Intellectual Property Organisation, a major UN specialised agency, yesterday. We talked about protecting copyright in the digital world. This is a daunting task. Not just for us, but it is particularly challenging in our country, because we do not yet have the tradition of respecting copyright. It looks free and it's all somewhere out there in virtual space, so it can be downloaded for free. Copyrights must be treated with respect. Each one of you is an author and you have the copyright to your work. Of course, it hurts when someone reproduces it and even makes money on it. And by the way, why does the internet hold a bright future for young people? Because it’s an environment where money can be made. It’s more complicated when it comes to television.

We are fighting these mirrors and have already smashed over 3,000 of them. I recently met with some filmmakers on an inspection tour, and they gave me a bunch of examples of content that can be downloaded directly from Yandex, which we mentioned today. I went ahead and checked it out. Indeed, films can be downloaded from there, and download links come on the first page of the search results. We must give credit to Yandex as it has removed, I think, some 1.5 million links like this. But they keep coming back.

Each time, those crafty individuals – people in this business are quite savvy in this area and very skilled at technology – are creating new work-around tactics. The filmmakers told me that the era of camrips seemed to have vanished, but then it came back with a vengeance. The cameras got better. They are now making 4K copies right in the cinema, in any case it was like that six months ago, and then they upload them.

We must fight this together. The last thing I want to say is that it is impossible to overcome this problem, this scourge, pardon me my language, in one country. There must be international agreements in place, because downloads are available at different websites that can be accessed from different countries. We need conventions and zero tolerance on behalf of all countries. Only then will we be able to protect copyright well. Lastly, copyright protection is a challenging task in the digital world. There’s a need to come up with more new approaches aimed at recording and protecting copyright to make sure that the authors are properly rewarded.

Polina Kastritskaya (TV Centre): Our question also concerns the digital sphere. Our viewers are interested in artificial intelligence. The other day we learned about the start of Virtual Lawyer system sales based on AI technology. In particular, this is designed to cut the costs of routine transactions by way of automating paperwork and managing the life cycle of contracts. Do you think artificial intelligence can acquire self-learning capabilities and become a subject of its own, after which it will not need humans? Regarding the labour market, when and in which areas will robots replace humans in Russia, and where is it already happening?

Dmitry Medvedev: That’s an apocalyptic question to wrap it up. There are 2.5 million robots in the world. Not robots you see in the movies, but robots that engage in shop-floor operations, and do top-quality work. Indeed, this creates problems on the labour market. AI is an extremely exciting subject for almost everyone in this audience. Here’s what I think. First, we need to keep in mind the three laws of robotics, as coined by Isaac Asimov.

Those of you who may have forgotten this should refresh your memory, but the first law is that a robot can never hurt a human. These laws must be followed scrupulously.

Second, I hope we won’t see it any time soon – but that’s robots becoming a subject of law or being granted legal status, rather than an object of regulation, or an object of law, talking legalese. If that happens, human civilisation will be over, indeed. I hope we will be able to control this. It depends on the level of AI development.

As you may be aware, it comes in three varieties. The first is common artificial intelligence. It is already here. When a driver gets behind the wheel, the computer comes on, which is, in fact, an element of artificial intelligence controlling parking, etc.

The second level involves artificial intelligence which is comparable to the human brain. They say it will be here soon. I’m not sure about that. Anna will definitely see it in maybe 20 years. Futurists say so.

The third level is superintelligence, the one you mentioned, which I don’t want to see, frankly, even though it will be able to resolve any problem.

We must focus on this area with all seriousness. Working groups have been created to this end. We recently had a meeting at Sberbank to discuss this matter. The way artificial intelligence is developing can make our lives much more comfortable. There’s no need to be afraid of it, but we need to control it.

Alexander Yakovlev: You mentioned the decisions made by artificial intelligence. What has been the most difficult decision you had to make?

Dmitry Medvedev: This question is both complex and simple. The most difficult decisions are the ones that lead to serious problems for the country or can create problems for people.

At one point, I had to make a decision on responding to Georgia’s aggression. I was a very young state leader then. It was difficult, because I had to make the decision literally two months after taking office. But further developments showed that this decision was inevitable and the only one to make. It’s good when events unfold like this.

With regard to more recent events, frankly, the decision on pension reform was one of the most difficult decisions for me, the Government and the President. It was hard to make, and it involved nerve-wracking debate and, in some ways, heartrending expectations. Frankly, no one wanted to make this decision, which is obvious. But it had to be made in order to allow our economy to grow, our people to live normal lives and the financial system to function properly, without struggling for breath. This was one of the hardest and most difficult decisions I ever made.

Alexandra Suvorova: We have been going for almost two hours now. Thank you very much, Mr Medvedev, for taking the questions of my colleagues from 20 television channels.

In closing, there’s one more question by Anna Tadyshchenko, Karusel TV Channel.

In Conversation with Dmitry Medvedev: Interview with Russian television channels

Anna Tadyshchenko: Do ​​you make wishes on your birthday or for New Year? Have they ever come true? Mr Medvedev, how are you going to see in the New Year?

Dmitry Medvedev: I will be with my family and friends who will come to visit me. I’ll sit down at the table and watch the President’s New Year’s address to the nation, just like 99 percent of our people. There’s nothing unusual here. I think it’s a good family tradition.

With regard to making wishes, I don’t think I have ever made any for my birthday. On New Year's Eve, everyone is thinking about what the New Year has in store for them. But you know you can’t share your wishes with anyone. So, I won’t either, to make sure they come true!

I want to take this opportunity to say that, although it is still only 5 December, winter is here. We are getting ready for the New Year. This interview is also part of these preparations.

I congratulate my fellow countrymen as the New Year is fast approaching. I wish you happiness and good health, so that your loved ones bring you joy and stay healthy, and things turn out well for you next year.

Thank you for participating in our event. I think it’s a rather exciting communication format, which fully reflects the changes in our television.