The first part of Vladimir Putin's interview to TASS News Agency has been published.
The 20 Questions with Vladimir Putin project is an interview with the President of Russia on the most topical subjects of social and political life in Russia and the world. Total recording time is 3.5 hours.
February 20, 2020
On the tasks of the new Government (Interview to TASS News Agency)
Andrei Vandenko: How are you doing?
Vladimir Putin: Honestly?
Andrei Vandenko: Honestly.
Vladimir Putin: I am doing very well.
Andrei Vandenko: I am happy for you.
I will ask questions, and you will hopefully answer.
Vladimir Putin: I will try. Depends on the questions.
Andrei Vandenko: We are facing a non-trivial task today. There are actually 20 topics. There are 20 because you have been in office, at the helm for 20 years. Now, the year is 2020 and that is quite symbolic.
Vladimir Putin: Let us not forget that I was Prime Minister for four years, not President.
Andrei Vandenko: The resignation of the Government. There are a lot of jokes and witticisms on this subject on the Internet. The first was probably as follows: because of the unusually warm weather in Russia, its Government has melted away like the snow.
Vladimir Putin: That is funny.
Andrei Vandenko: Here is what it looks like. (Showing a photo collage)
Vladimir Putin: Ok, but why exactly did it melt away in parliament, I do not understand.
Andrei Vandenko: Well, I suppose they just found this picture.
Vladimir Putin: You know, the Internet is an interesting tool, but at times inaccurate.
Andrei Vandenko: True. And now, all kidding aside, in fact, Medvedev’s government, his cabinet, underwent a reshuffle not that long ago, just in 2018, after the election. Some left – Dvorkovich, Shuvalov, Men’, Abyzov, though let us not even go there in the latter's case; so they started to work. What happened over this year and a half to provoke…
Vladimir Putin: First, more might have happened in a year and a half, or two years. Secondly, the previous cabinet has really done a lot in terms of preparing the main phase of the implementation of national projects. They had to identify national development goals. And this only seems easy at first glance. In fact, it is an enormous effort.
Then, tools needed to be developed on which to rely in order to achieve these national goals. The Government did that as well. But then, I felt some inner certainty that this is when new people should come in to pursue work in new areas of crucial importance; people with modern training and commitment to achieving the overarching goal on key development elements.
I would like to draw your attention to the fact that the core has remained. Some people from the Executive Office, including those directly involved in the work on national projects, have moved to the Government. This is of paramount importance, I believe. I will tell you why. If they were behind the development of these national projects and the goals we are expected to achieve in terms of national development, it stands to logic that they should be tasked with putting into practice exactly what they have suggested as these goals and tools to achieve them. Therefore, some people from the Executive Office have come to the Government to do it because that is where it is done.
Andrei Vandenko: And some from the Government have moved on to the Executive Office…
Vladimir Putin: Yes, yes, let them work here.
Andrei Vandenko: So changing the order of the addends does change the sum?
Vladimir Putin: Yes, it does, for sure. That is why there is nothing unusual or unexpected here. You can of course ask me, I did say there would be no change, no plans for that. Yes, I did. If I had said that I was going to change the Government tomorrow, all work would have just stopped the day after tomorrow. As the saying goes, call it a day and hit the hay.
Andrei Vandenko: That is why we call it a “special operation”.
Vladimir Putin: It is not.
Andrei Vandenko: No one knew. Did anyone know?
Vladimir Putin: I did.
Andrei Vandenko: Anybody else?
Vladimir Putin: Is that not enough?
Andrei Vandenko: When did you make the decision?
Vladimir Putin: I will not say.
Andrei Vandenko: When did you tell Medvedev?
Vladimir Putin: That is between the two of us.
Andrei Vandenko: But we should know, shouldn’t we?
Vladimir Putin: We have enjoyed very frank, collegial, friendly relations with Mr Medvedev for many years. We have no secrets from one another. Therefore, we discussed this issue with him.
Andrei Vandenko: You mean earlier? Or did you just confront him with the fact?
Vladimir Putin:We discussed it earlier and he knew what was going on.
Andrei Vandenko: He has been given a position invented for him specifically, which never existed. You even had to hastily adopt a law to provide for this post.
Vladimir Putin: Why hastily? The law was adopted.
Andrei Vandenko: The appointment came first, and the law followed…
Vladimir Putin: There is nothing out of the ordinary here. If there is something in the legislation that needs adjustment, the President in accordance with the Fundamental Law has the right to fill in this gap in the legislation by issuing an executive order, which will be followed by the adoption of a relevant law. This is normal practice. Nothing unusual.
Andrei Vandenko: There is a certain feeling of hastiness. As if you needed some solution…
Vladimir Putin: Your feeling is not exactly the same as reality. You may have all sorts of feelings. You may feel that you are running a high temperature judging by your senses, but this might not be the case. You need a thermometer to know whether you have a fever or not. So, we have nothing out of the ordinary here. I will say it again. The legal practice is as follows: if there is a gap in the legislation, a President issues an executive order, and the provision is later implemented through a law. Just wait a second. This is number one.
Number two is the question: why should we wait to decide on such issues? What will that achieve? According to those who do not have a clear understanding of what is going on or are critical about it, would it be better to spend another six months after the resignation of the Government in order to form a new one? Can you imagine what a mess the country would be in? There should never be a gap in power. Never.
Everything should be discussed and thought through in advance, in a calm and business-like manner, each step should be prepared, and then the decision should be taken and implemented. We cannot afford to muddle along here. Russia is not Belgium that can stay a whole year without any government.
Andrei Vandenko: The new Government is yet another topic. And I would like to get back to the old one. Zhirinovskiy suggested that the Security Council deputy Chairman be referred to as vice-president. Is it so, at face value?
Vladimir Putin: No. Because a vice-president is the one to step in for the President assuming all his or her rights and responsibilities. We have introduced the post of deputy Chairman of the Security Council. The President is Chairman of the Security Council. And now I have a deputy on this particular track.
Andrei Vandenko: Another joke on the Internet: the duo has fallen out of sync.
Vladimir Putin: Nothing is out of sync.
Andrei Vandenko: The tandem…
Vladimir Putin: We are working with Mr Medvedev as we used to. He has switched to another track in his career. That is true. And natural, too.
Andrei Vandenko: As for the choice you made of the new Prime Minister. Who was on the short list? They mentioned Mishustin, Sobyanin… You had two executive orders for signing on the table, and you were hesitating till the last moment.
Vladimir Putin: No one mentioned Mishustin except me. I can tell you that there were three candidates.
Andrei Vandenko: Three?
Vladimir Putin: Yes. Three, or maybe even four candidates were submitted. But Mishustin was not on the list.
Andrei Vandenko: So this was your…
Vladimir Putin: Mine.
Andrei Vandenko: What was your reasoning?
Vladimir Putin: I took into account Mr Mishustin’s personal traits and professional skills.
Andrei Vandenko: And the result of the digitalization he carried out at the institution he headed, did you take it into account?
Vladimir Putin: I did. Not so much the fact that he carried it out, but the fact that he really became an expert in this area. A man of practice, who understands very well what needs to be done and who knows how to do it; and he is doing it and achieving concrete results.
Andrei Vandenko: But what about the fact that he is a tax collector by trade, in other words, he is accustomed to taking, while this position is more about giving?
Vladimir Putin: This is a very primitive understanding of the work of the tax service.
Yes, of course, it is one of the main bodies bringing funds to the state treasury; however, to think that a tax collector walks around with a club, squeezing money out of people is very primitive. No, it is quite the opposite. His mission was to ease the situation for taxpayers, to make the procedure more transparent and clear and less burdensome for citizens.
An honest man who knows he properly pays all due taxes has the right to expect that the state will use the money wisely.
But the first thing to do is not to simply extract money from people – it is to organize the system in such a way that both the state and the tax payers could comfortably work with each other and it would be clear how things are arranged, and everybody could pay taxes without impediment, without unnecessary hassle and stress, and without running the risk of doing something that the state may interpret as illegal.
Andrei Vandenko: When this team was formed, some noticed, first of all, that you had broken, or at least it was perceived that way, certain rules that you had used to stick to, such as ”not to turn your back on your old mates“, to avoid dismissals of those criticized and not to pay heed to critics on the Internet, to public opinion. This time, the most toxic figures, who had been most fiercely criticized in the media or social networks, walked away to be replaced by ‘no-names’ – that is, people you had to ‘google’ or ‘yandex’.
Vladimir Putin: You know, the criterion was not lack of knowledge about those people, it was their professional qualifications. I know, and Mikhail Mishustin knows these people as competent professionals. And I was to a considerable extent guided specifically by his opinion in this regard. There were a number of candidates whom I had doubts about, but Mr Mishustin would prove to me that this or that person was best fit for the job. I agreed with him because, at the end of the day, he was forming his own team and the final concrete result it achieves will depend on the efficiency of its work.
Andrei Vandenko: What window of time do they have? I mean, when will you evaluate their professional efficiency?
Vladimir Putin:There is no window of time. All of these people are, I will say it again, competent, they all are well informed and know their job. Many of them worked, one way or another, on the national projects and national development targets, so they are totally in the know. Thus, there can be no window, no time for warming up.
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