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Tuesday, 6 March, 2001, 16:50 GMT
Putin live: Transcript of webcast part two

This is part two of the full text of Russian President Vladimir Putin's webcast live from the Kremlin.

 Click here to watch a recording of the webcast in English

Moldova has just held parliamentary elections, which were won by the communists. This was immediately followed by a declaration that Moldova's rulers, or at least some of them, are able to and want to join the union between Russia and Belarus. How do you view that?

Moldova is a friendly state, a member of the CIS, and of course we are bound to take an interest in what goes on there. But above all else, this is Moldova's own internal affair. We are carefully following events there and we shall respect the will of the Moldovan people, whatever they may decide.

If the communists win, then they win. If they express friendly feelings towards Russia, then we can only be pleased. As for joining the Russia-Belarus union, then I think some domestic procedures should be implemented, within Moldova itself. But our treaty, the union between Russia and Belarus, is open and the union can be joined by all who find it acceptable and in keeping with their wishes and aspirations. We welcome that declaration.

There are a lot of questions on the following. Given the latest events in the Duma and the possibility of a vote of no confidence in the government and of early parliamentary election, the new law on [political] parties has acquired a new relevance. In particular, representatives of [the pro-presidential] Unity [faction in the Duma] were saying yesterday that early elections under the new law will only increase their presence in the Duma. But in any event, many people say that the next elections will be both presidential and parliamentary, most likely after the new law on parties is passed.

Do you think that two or three, perhaps even four, strong, nationwide, effective, political structures will soon emerge? Don't you think that the country's president should be the leader of one of these parties and draw support from it in his activity, so that it is clear which party is the ruling party?

In general, the attitude to this varies from country to country, and this field of activity is arranged in different ways. In some states, the country's leader is elected by the party and actually continues to be a member of the party, conducts its policy.

And in some states the opposite is true. The head of state is prohibited from being a member of any political party, which is the case in our country.

I think that today when we are only just talking about the coming into being of our political system, our political structure, a civil society, we would like that, but we do not have it essentially. We can only guess, presume and calculate when that will happen, whether it will happen, in what time frame.

At the present time, I think that the head of state could be elected from some party, but he should represent the interests of the whole of society, of the entire people, irrespective of which party he belongs to. And I think that it would be more justified in Russia, especially in today's Russia, for the head of state to be outside the party structures, not part of the party structures.

[Bridget Kendall] Mr President, it is not surprising that many people want to get to know you better as a person. This is a question from Victor Vitik. He lives in San Diego, California.

He wants to know what your usual schedule for the day is. How many hours do you spend in the office? Do you have time to read books? Which books have you read recently?

From England, Scott Peck from Windsor, Great Britain, asks who your favourite authors are. Which music do your prefer? Which disc will you put on when you come home?

You know, as far as my schedule is concerned, it is easy for someone in California to ask such questions, especially if you look at all the snow in Moscow. The schedule is rather tight. I get up early. I spend about 30 minutes every day doing exercises. I swim for about 20 minutes. Then I work. During the day I try to have a break for about an hour and a half - also for exercises. I finish work late - at around eleven, ten o'clock at night or midnight.

...As for what I have read, I think that any person working in a specific field must work to increase his skills. I have read two books - I am still reading them. Both of them deal with Russia.

The first is the history of rule of Catherine the Second [the Great].

The second is a book by Dmitriy Likhachev: Thoughts about Russia. This is a book about history - a philosophical outlook on the history of Russia's literature and culture.

As far as music is concerned, I like the so-called - if I can put it this way - popular classical music. If I came home and had a chance to put on some disc straight away, I would put on something by Tchaikovsky or Schubert as transcribed by Liszt - I mean Liszt as transcribed by Schubert.

And your favourite authors?

Russian classical literature: Chekhov, Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky. I used to really enjoy Dumas and Jules Verne, and Maupassant, and contemporary literature as well. We had a very good literature teacher at school. He taught us to care about literature, taught us how to use a book.

And modern literature, cinema? Do you have time for it?

Why not? Now of course not, but previously there was more time. I like cinema very much too. I liked French cinema very much. My favourite Russian actor was Plyatt, while as for famous western ones, I could name among those I liked best of all Romy Schneider.

...Here is another question we have received on line. Andrey Rogov, programmer from Nizhny Novgorod asks: Don't you think that the official site of the President of Russia does not quite meet the requirements set for internet projects? This site is viewed by users practically all over the world. One can say that for Russia, this is the internet project number one.

I must frankly admit that I don't see myself as a specialist in this sphere. I like it but I admit that it can be done better. Therefore we can agree right now to announce a competition for improving this project. The conditions will be made known at our council, my council.

You know, one of the features of the Internet is that it's impossible to pull the wool over people's eyes here. Of the 15,000 questions that we have received among the three of us a huge number, thousands of question, touch upon economic reforms and the specific peculiarities of their implementation in Russia.

For instance, our reader from Kazan calls them a travesty of reform. He says that while some taxes are being cut, others are being introduced, and against the background of real life the media rhetoric on tax reform looks like rhetoric indeed. Nothing is changing in the real life of entrepreneurs, especially small and medium ones, and changes, if any, are for the worse. What can you say about this?

I can say that of course we would like them to advance better and faster. I agree with our reader that [these reforms] could have made better and faster progress. Perhaps we could have done it better.

But it probably ought to be acknowledged that although we are not happy with the pace and perhaps even the quality, we are still moving ahead. That at least has to be acknowledged.

I think that our subscribers and our internet users will agree. At least, they should feel this new 13-per-cent tax rate. They should feel the introduction of a new tax code. They, or those who are involved in foreign trade, should feel improvements in customs procedures. By this I mean most of all cuts in custom duty and substantially less red tape in this respect, although there is still plenty more to do here.

Of course, there is a lot to do for small and medium-sized business. I agree. I have been demanding, and I intend to keep doing this, that the government speed up this work, as you know. A package of laws to reduce red tape has just been debated, and I hope it will go before the Duma very soon.

Of course, this is not enough. We need also to tackle a whole range of issues to do with banking and relaxing our currency laws. Of course, we need to strengthen our legal system, especially when dealing with economic matters. So there are more problems than solutions.

...Do you intend to resort to decrees to speed up the reform process? The Duma may be democratic, but it is fairly slow. Many reforms can, and indeed used to be, pushed through by presidential decree. This issue, or rather suggestion, that you exercise your right to issue economic decrees, has come from our readers.

There were many interesting phenomena before. I prefer to act within the bounds of the country's existing legislation. There are spheres that are not regulated by law, and in this case the president has the right to fill this hole in legislation by decree.

If, however, there is a law in operation - let's say, in the sphere of currency control - then to fill the hole, to change it by means of decree is unacceptable, for this is illegal. We are compelled to procure the appropriate decision from the parliament of the country. I think that there can be no other way in a democratic society and state. It is complicated, but it is the only acceptable way because it is legitimate, which is to say that it will last.

That's to say, if we achieve the decision within the framework of such a procedure, we will be trusted both by our domestic potential investors and market partners and by our potential foreign partners on the market, those outside the Russian Federation. Then it will be effective - I repeat, the only correct path for Russia.

Let's perhaps continue this theme of reform. There are very many questions on the issue of judicial reform, in particular from regional journalists, journalists of regional publications.

For example, here is one from Aleksey Timoshenko from Gorod N newspaper in Rostov-on-Don: What are the prospects for judicial reform, with what do you intend to initiate it and what steps do you consider necessary in the immediate future?

I'd like to jump ahead. I want to tell you only that in the very near future we will finish work on a package of laws on this sphere of activity and put it to the country's parliament. It will be aimed at perfecting the judicial system.

It contains - I repeat - a whole complex, a whole package of proposals connected with the perfecting of the mechanism of the judicial system itself and with the strengthening of this judicial system. After this, I will propose a law that will be aimed at perfecting coordination between various structural subdivisions, or various spheres of law-protecting and law-enforcing activity.

I mean the competence of the prosecutor's office, of the judges, and so forth.

[Bridget Kendall] And now an international question. Many people are interested in your opinion on relations between Russia and NATO and in particular with America, all the more so since there is a new American president now, whom you have not met yet.

Here is a question from Patrick Santoso, Canberra, Australia. What will you do if the USA insists on developing the National Missile Defence system? It is being reported that you may break off all the arms limitation talks. Is that the case?

[Putin] We are not preparing to deliver anyone any ultimatums. We want to be part of the negotiating process and are reckoning on that. Judging by the reactions that we have today from the new American administration, our American partners are inclined to think the same. And this fills us with a certain optimism.

If, nevertheless, a decision is taken to withdraw unilaterally from the 1972 ABM treaty, then there will be consequences of a legal nature, which will not depend on Russia. I would like to stress this and I want all the participants in our meeting today to understand this. The consequences will not depend on Russia.

A whole series of treaties and agreements in the field of international security are linked with the treaty of 1972 as if it is an axis. As soon as we pull out that axis, they will all automatically fall apart. The whole of today's international security structure will collapse.

So, this is how Russia understands it, lets say. Russia ratified START-2, cuts in the numbers of our strategic missiles, but in the law on the ratification it states that it, this ratification, is only in force, if the ABM treaty of 1972 is observed.

...In other words, we are not automatically, by law, obliged to observe the numerical restrictions in the sphere of missile defence.

(Click here for part three of the transcript.)

BBC Monitoring, based in Caversham in southern England, selects and translates information from radio, television, press, news agencies and the Internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages.

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06 Mar 01 | Europe
Putin live: Transcript of webcast
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