Vladimir Putin’s annual news conference

Moscow, December, 23, 2016

Nathan Hodge: Mr President,You made a statement yesterday on strengthening the strategic nuclear capability . Could you elaborate on these plans in greater detailOn a personal level, what interests me is the production of new kinds of nuclear weapons. We know of course how hard it is, since nuclear tests are banned. Perhaps you simply could not help but respond to Mr Trump’s statement yesterday on nuclear weapons?

Vladimir Putin: Regarding the US President-elect, Mr Trump, there is nothing new here. On the campaign trail he talked about the need to strengthen the US nuclear capability and armed forces. Sothereisnothingunusualhere.

Honestly, I was quite surprised by statements coming from other official representatives of the current administration, who for some reason started to argue that the United States has the most powerful army in the world. But nobody suggested otherwise .

If you listened carefully to what I said yesterday, I talked about strengthening the nuclear triad and in conclusion said that the Russian Federation was stronger than any potential – and this is key – aggressor. This is a very important point, and not an incidental one.

What does it mean to be an aggressor? An aggressor is someone who can attack the Russian Federation. We are stronger than any potential aggressor. I have no problem repeating it.

I also said why we are stronger. This has to do with the effort to modernise the Russian Armed Forces, as well as the history and geography of our country, and the current state of Russian society. There are a whole host of reasons, not least the effort to modernise the Armed Forces, including both conventional weapons and the nuclear triad.

I must say, and this is no secret, we have nothing to hide, that indeed, we have put a lot of effort into modernising Russia’s nuclear missile potential, and our Armed Forces. This also applies to our Strategic Missile Forces, which are deployed on land; this concerns our sea-based forces; this is all open information, we are not hiding anything. We are deploying new strategic nuclear submarines with new types of missiles on board. This also applies to our air forces. I am referring to both the carriers, i.e. the aircraft, and the strike systems they have under their wings. We operate in strict compliance — I would like to emphasize this — in strict compliance with all of our agreements, including START-3.

Once again, allow me to repeat something I consider extremely important. In 2001, the United States unilaterally withdrew from the ABM Treaty. This agreement was certainly the cornerstone of the entire international security system. We were told then, “We are not doing this against you, while you…” I said, “We will have to react somehow, we will need to improve our strike systems in order to defeat these missile defense systems.” And they said, “Well, you can do whatever you want, we will proceed from the idea that you are not doing it against us.” So that’s what we’re doing. Although many prefer to ignore this fact, but this is exactly what we have basically agreed to, tacitly, without signing any documents. Sonothingnewishappeninghere.

So why are current US officials suddenly claiming that they are the strongest and the most powerful? Yes, indeed, they do have more missiles, submarines and aircraft carriers. We will not even argue with that. We are saying that we are simply stronger than any aggressor. And this is true.

Yevgeny Primakov: Yevgeny Primakov, MezhdunarodnoyeObozrenie [Global Review], Rossiya 24, VGTRK.

Mr President, the world is going through a period of fundamental change. We saw the expression of popular will, when people vote against old political concepts and old elites. Britain voted to leave the European Union, although it remains to be seen how the Brexit issue will pan out. Many say that Trump won because people voted, among other things, against the old establishment, the people they have become sick and tired of.

Have you discussed these changes with colleagues? What will a new global landscape look like? Do you remember what you said at the General Assembly when the UN celebrated its 70th anniversary? You said, ‘Do you understand what you have done?’ Where are things headed? We are still locked in a confrontation. You have mentioned the exchange about who has the strongest army. At his farewell news conference, Barack Obama, who is still your colleague, said that 37 percent of Republicans sympathise with you and hearing this Ronald Reagan would have rolled over in his grave.

Vladimir Putin: I have commented on this issue on a number of occasions. If you want to hear it one more time, I can say it again. The current US Administration and leaders of the Democratic Party are trying to blame all their failures on outside factors. I have questions and some thoughts in this regard.

We know that not only did the Democratic Party lose the presidential election, but also the Senate, where the Republicans have the majority, and Congress, where the Republicans are also in control. Did we, or I also do that? We may have celebrated this on the “vestiges of a 17th century chapel,” but were we the ones who destroyed the chapel, as the saying goes? This is not the way things really are. All this goes to show that the current administration faces system-wide issues, as I have said at a Valdai Club meeting.

It seems to me there is a gap between the elite’s vision of what is good and bad and that of what in earlier times we would have called the broad popular masses. I do not take support for the Russian President among a large part of Republican voters as support for me personally, but rather see it in this case as an indication that a substantial part of the American people share similar views with us on the world’s organisation, what we ought to be doing, and the common threats and challenges we are facing. It is good that there are people who sympathise with our views on traditional values because this forms a good foundation on which to build relations between two such powerful countries as Russia and the United States, build them on the basis of our peoples’ mutual sympathy.

They would be better off not taking the names of their earlier statesmen in vain, of course. I’m not so sure who might be turning in their grave right now. It seems to me that Reagan would be happy to see his party’s people winning everywhere, and would welcome the victory of the newly elected President so adept at catching the public mood, and who took precisely this direction and pressed onwards to the very end, even when no one except us believed he could win.

The outstanding Democrats in American history would probably be turning in their graves though. Roosevelt certainly would be because he was an exceptional statesman in American and world history, who knew how to unite the nation even during the Great Depression’s bleakest years, in the late 1930s, and during World War II. Today’s administration, however, is very clearly dividing the nation. The call for the electors not to vote for either candidate, in this case, not to vote for the President-elect, was quite simply a step towards dividing the nation. Two electors did decide not to vote for Trump, and four for Clinton, and here too they lost. They are losing on all fronts and looking for scapegoats on whom to lay the blame. I think that this is an affront to their own dignity . It is important to know how to lose gracefully.

Nikolai Yaryomenko: I am Nikolai Yaryomenko from Sovetsky Sport.

We are the oldest sport newspaper in the country, 92 years. We have seen a great deal. But we write about more than just scores, medals and seconds. We are concerned about the country’s future in sport, and it appears, unfortunately, that we care more than some of our officials do. We have seen that some officials were fired or moved to other posts after the publication of Mr McLaren’s two reports, even if not immediately. Can we say that the doping situation in the country is improving thanks to these personnel reshuffles? Will it improve, or are the actions taken towards this end not enough yet?

My second sub-question is: Can the mega-monster, WADA, be reformed or should it be replaced with some other organisation? It is not a strictly sports question, as many people see a political component. Is there a political component?

Thank you.

Vladimir Putin: Let me begin with doping as such and the problem of doping. First, Russia has never created – this is absolutely impossible – a state-run doping system and has never supported doping, and we will do our best to prevent this in the future. I wanted to repeat this as my first point.

Secondly, like any other country, we have a doping problem. We must admit this and by doing so, we must do everything in our power to prevent any doping. As such, we need toclosely cooperate with the International Olympic Committee, WADA and other international organisations . We will do this. I hope that the ongoing changes, which are not only about personnel but are systemic and structural changes, will help us achieve these goals. In addition, the Investigative Committee and the Prosecutor’s Office are investigating all cases of alleged doping, and they will bring these cases to their logical conclusion.

As for the so-called whistle-blowers who ran away from the country, grass up everyone or make up things, I would like to say a few words. I do not remember exactly the name of the person who fled Russia. He headed the Russian Anti-Doping Agency. But where did he work before that? In Canada. And what did he do after that? He came to Russia and brought all kinds of nasty stuff with him, while serving as a high-ranking official. It is hard to imagine that he managed to cross the Canadian or US border carrying banned substances without being detected. You know what it means. Many of you have crossed the US and Canadian borders, there are very strict controls there. He travelled back and forth many times to bring this nasty stuff here. It was his personal undertaking, he forced people to take these substances, and even came up with some sort of sanctions against those who refused to do so, for example, the swimmers. When he was exposed, he escaped law enforcement, fled, and started slurring everyone in order to protect himself and secure a place in the sun in hope of a better life. At a certain point he will get what he wants. But after that, just as it happens to any rascal, they will drop him. Nobody needs people like this. Why did he not fight here? This makes me think that somebody was behind him. They waited for a certain moment and started spreading these false stories. But this does not mean that Russia does not have a problem with doping. We do have this problem, and we must fight it. We must acknowledge this, and in doing so we must focus on athletes’ health.

As for WADA, I am not entitled to assess its performance. It is up to the International Olympic Committee to do it. However, as I have already said, operations of any anti-doping agency, including WADA, should be completely transparent, clear and verifiable, and we must be informed about the results of their work. What does this mean? This means that the international sports community should know who is to be tested, when and by what means, what the results are and what measures are being taken to punish those responsible, what is being done to prevent such incidents in the future. What’s going on? Are we talking about the defence industry? No. But in this case it is unclear why everything is so secretive? This should be an open process. They always ask us to be transparent. Transparency is very important in this area.

I cannot fail to agree with what a number of legendary athletes said about the recent decisions to cancel major competitions in Russia. They said that nobody knew anything. But if it was known before, why was it made public right now? You know, politics are always involved in cases like this . Just as culture, sport should be free from politics, because sport and culture should both help bring people together instead of driving them apart.

Steven Rosenberg: Mr President, your country has been accused of state-sponsored hacking with the aim of influencing the results of the US presidential election.And President Obama has hinted very strongly, he thinks that you are behind that. He said that not much happens in Russia without Vladimir Putin.And President Obama revealed that he told you personally to cut it out. So, what did you tell him in response? And can you confirm that you were warned by Washington not to tamper with America’s election, warned in a message via the so-called Red Phone, the crisis line between your two countries?

And finally, just coming back to the point about Donald Trump’s tweet yesterday. Are you not concerned there is a danger of a new arms race, if America is talking about boosting its nuclear arsenal? Thank you.

Vladimir Putin: The United States paved the way to a new arms race by withdrawing from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty. This is obvious. When one party unilaterally withdrew from the treaty and announced that it would be building a nuclear umbrella for itself, the other party either has to build the same umbrella (which seems unnecessary to us considering the questionable effectiveness of this programme), or develop efficient means of overcoming this missile defence system and improving its own missile strike system, which we are doing successfully. We did not concoct this. We have to respond to this challenge.

Speaking about our progress (and we have advanced significantly), yes, we are progressing, but within the boundaries of our agreements. I would like to emphasise this. We are not breaching any terms, including START III. We abide by all the agreements regarding the number of nuclear delivery vehicles and warheads.

Just recently, US observers came to our nuclear plants and watched how we produce missiles and nuclear devices. Do you all remember that? Instead of maintaining our relations in a similar fashion, the United States withdrew from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty. Itwasnotwewhodidit.

Yes, we have made progress in improving our nuclear triad systems, including the means to break through missile defence. This system is currently much more effective than missile defence, it is true. Perhaps this is what is prompting the United States to improve its own nuclear arsenal. Well, thisiswhattheyaredoing.

Take, for example, the replacement of tactical nuclear weapons based in other countries, including Europe, including your own country, Great Britain. This is happening. I hope that the audience of your programmes and online readers are aware of this. American tactical nuclear weapons are being replaced in Turkey, the UK and the Netherlands. So if anyone is instigating this arms race, it is not us.

But I would like to stress that this is also very important for our domestic consumption, for domestic policy. We will never be dragged into an arms race to spend more than we can afford. I already said in my answers to several questions in the beginning that defence spending amounted to 2.7 percent of the budget in 2011 and 4.7 percent this year but next year we plan 3.3 percent and, eventually, 2.8 percent by 2019. We will maintain this bar because we have already taken some necessary measures to move towards modernisation that must bring us to the point where 70 percent of the armaments will be new and advanced by 2021. Now the advanced weapons amount to almost 50 percent, with around 60 in some segments and 90 percent in the nuclear segment. Therefore, we are satisfied with the current progress. Everything is going according to plan.

First, about the interference. I already responded to one of your fellow journalists from the United States. The defeated party always tries to blame somebody on the outside. They should be looking for these problems closer to home.

Everybody keeps forgetting the most important point. For example, some hackers breached email accounts of the US Democratic Party leadership. Some hackers did that. But, as the President-elect rightly noted, does anyone know who those hackers were? Maybe they came from another country, not Russia. Maybe somebody just did it from their couch or bed. These days, it is very easy to designate a random country as the source of attack while being in a completely different location.

But is this important? I think the most important thing is the information that the hackers revealed to the public. Did they compile or manipulate the data? No, they did not. What is the best proof that the hackers uncovered truthful information? The proof is that after the hackers demonstrated how public opinion had been manipulated within the Democratic Party, against one candidate rather than the other, against candidate Sanders, the Democratic National Committee Chairperson resigned. This means she admitted that the hackers revealed the truth. Instead of apologising to the voters and saying, “Forgive us, our bad, we will never do this again,” they started yelling about who was behind the attacks. Isthatimportant?

As concerns my conversation with President Obama, again, it is my rule to never talk about this in public. I am aware that his aide recently made a public statement regarding that conversation with Mr Obama. You can ask my aide, he will answer. MrPeskov is here.

FuadSafarov: FuadSafarov, Sputnik news agency, Turkish office. Mr Putin, for the first time, Russia and Turkey have succeeded in resolving a major important issue with Syria without involving the West. I am referring to Aleppo. So, Russia and Turkey have such potential. But will Ankara and Moscow be able use this potential in the future? Will Iran, Russia and Turkey withstand the insidious games in the Middle East? This new triangle, this alliance – will it be able to play a key role in settling the Syrian conflict?

Allow me to ask a second question. You and Mr Erdogan reached an agreement on Syria in October 2015, but it was an informal agreement. Then a Russian plane was shot down. In June, relations began to normalise. That was followed by a coup attempt. Today, Russia and Turkey have begun to collaborate on a settlement in Aleppo, but the Russian Ambassador was murdered in Ankara. Do not you think this is a coincidence?

Thank you.

Vladimir Putin: Let us start with the final part of your question, with the tragedy that happened recently, I mean the murder of our ambassador . I think primarily, that was certainly an attempt to compromise Russia, to compromise Russian-Turkish relations . No doubt about that.

You know, I will be straight with you. I was sceptical about the idea that our aircraft was downed without the order of the Turkey’s top leadership but by people who wanted to harm Russian-Turkish relations. But now after the gun attack on the ambassador, which was committed by a riot police officer, I am beginning to change my mind. Now it seems to me that anything is possible. And the infiltration of Turkey’s government agencies, including law-enforcement and the army, by destructive elements is certainly deep. Right now I am not at liberty to point fingers elsewhere and accuse someone of something, but we see that this is a fact, this is taking place.

Will it obstruct the development of Russian-Turkish relations? No, it will not, because we understand the importance and role of Russian-Turkish relations and will do everything to develop them with due account of Turkish interests and, no less important, Russian interests. During the past year, or to be more precise, after the normalisation, we managed to find compromise. I hope we will be equally successful at finding compromise in the future, too.

Now a few words about Aleppo . Indeed, the President of Turkey and the President and all leaders of Iran in general played a very large role in resolving the situation around Aleppo. This involved exchanges and unblocking several areas with a Shiite majority. Perhaps this will sound immodest but this would have been simply impossible without our participation, without Russia’s participation..

So, all this cooperation in the trilateral format definitely played a very important role in resolving problems around Aleppo . Indicatively, and this is extremely important, especially at the last stage, this was achieved without military action, as the Defence Minister just reported to me about this work at the final stage. We simply organised and carried out the evacuation of tens of thousands of people, and not only radical armed groups and their representatives but also women and children. I am referring to the over 100,000 people who were evacuated from Aleppo . Thousands were moved out of other residential areas in exchange for this withdrawal from Aleppo.

This is the biggest – and I want to emphasise this for all to hear – the biggest international humanitarian action in the modern world . It could not have been carried out without the active efforts of the Turkish leadership, the Turkish President, the President of Iran and all other Iranian leaders, and without our active participation. Needless to say, this would not have been achieved without the goodwill and efforts of Mr Assad, the President of the Syrian Arab Republic, and his staff. So, experience shows that there is a need for this format and we will, of course, develop it.

I would not disregard the interests and the involvement of other countries in the region, such as Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and, of course, Egypt. Undoubtedly, it would also be wrong to approach issues of this kind without a global player such as the United States, so we are willing to work with everyone.

The next step, while we are at it, should be an agreement on a ceasefire throughout Syria, immediately followed by practical talks on political reconciliation. We suggested Astana, Kazakhstan, as a neutral territory, and the President of Turkey agreed. The President of Iran also agreed as did President Assad. President Nazarbayev has kindly agreed to provide this venue. I very much hope that we will manage to put it on a practical footing.

Andrei Zheltukhin : Good afternoon Mr President.

My question deals with the coal sector’s development , a subject of concern to me, of course. It is believed today that coal is a polluting fuel that damages the environment and should therefore be abandoned, but no one wants to hear about the new technologies that exist, and yet today’s modern coal power plants have technologies that capture all harmful emissions. What is your view on the future of Kuzbass and Russian coal? Thank you.

Vladimir Putin:As for coal and its future as a primary source of energy, there is much talk about the need for a transition to alternative energy. By the way, Russia is moving in this direction, including hydrogen fuel, wind and solar power. We are working on all these issues . I have recently visited a RUSNANO company where this cutting-edge forward-looking technology is used.

At the same time, I would like to draw your attention to the fact that the European Commission, for example, has decided to scale back subsidies in these areas. Why? Because it is very expensive. Of course, these technologies should be improved. But for now they are quite costly, and they are surely less efficient compared to traditional energy sources. Here is what I would like coal miners, as well as other colleagues, to hear: today more coal is used across the world than oil and gas combined . Well, maybe not necessarily oil and gas combined, but it is certainly ahead of natural gas, and maybe even oil and gas combined. This goes to show that coal remains a key element in the global energy mix.

You were right to say that the latest technology should be used in order to make coal more eco-friendly. I know that Kuzbass is acting along these lines. Many industrial companies across the world and in Russia implement high-technology processing methods to create new products, including coal dust that can be used in the wider energy industry. I am confident that if we move in this direction Kuzbass and coal miners elsewhere will have a bright future and a lot of work . Of course, this is related to the overall economic development in Russia and beyond, including the metals industry.

Unfortunately, the metals industry has somewhat contracted both globally and in Russia, and there are some challenges that need to be addressed. However, I am confident that it has a future.

Yelena Glushakova: As a follow-up to my colleague’s question. Yelena Glushakova, RIA Novosti.

I have a question about oil. What will happen with it? What do you think will happen to oil prices? The current price is $40–$50 per barrel. Is that enough for the Russian economy? Will the Russian budget cope with reduced oil production, which we agreed to as part of our agreement with OPEC? What price of oil, do you think, is the best for the Russian economy?

Vladimir Putin: Today, as far as I know, Brent is selling not at $45, but $55, I checked this morning. I have already mentioned that we are drafting a budget based on conservative estimates of $40 per barrel. If you go back to the first questions of today’s agenda, as the bureaucrats say, then I can tell you that we got the results that we did due to the fact that the real situation was worse than our forecasts, because we drafted the 2016 budget based on oil prices of $50 per barrel, but it ended up being $40. Despite that, both the GDP trends and inflation have changed, and we have kept our reserves. So, this is a significant factor in the overall analysis of developments in our economy. The global economy is worse off, but our performance is better. This means that the economy has adapted and will continue to grow.

Now, about the prices and their impact on us. No one can say for sure, this is a complex issue which depends on many variables, and predicting them is almost impossible. Our Ministry of Energy has already provided its forecasts. We believe that the excess oil will leave the market in the second half of 2017, and oil prices will stabilise. We hope they will stabilise at their current levels.

Now, with regard to how our economy will respond to a decline in oil production, I can say that we took this step deliberately. We have a relatively high ”production shelf“ as of the end of this year. The decline in production, which we have committed to, stands at 300,000 barrels per day for the period from January to June. This will be a smooth reduction, which will have almost no effect on the overall production volumes, which is absolutely acceptable for us. However, we expect that this will lead to an increase in oil prices, which has already happened .

If this state of affairs remains unchanged, how will it affect the budget and our companies? The $10 difference in oil prices would mean additional budget revenue of 1.75 trillion rubles. For oil companies, despite declining production, the difference of $10 in oil prices will provide an additional income of 750 billion rubles. That is, everyone will win in the end. This is the first such OPEC decision over the past eight years, I believe.

Of course, this result would not have been possible without our good will to work in conjunction with OPEC. We will continue to cooperate with OPEC , meaning we will meet our obligations. However, we are not OPEC members, and while we maintain contacts with them, we, as we meet our obligations, are free from any other commitments until we achieve common results. So far the results are evident, we are striving to achieve them. We believe that such cooperation is beneficial both for the countries that are not members of the cartel, and for OPEC itself.

Andrzej Zaucha: Andrzej Zaucha, TVN, Poland.Recently it has often been said that Poland is moving away from the European Union. There are similar trends in other European countries. From your perspective, is aweak Europe more convenient, more beneficial for Russia? Is Russia using all these disagreements, conflicts and problems within the European Union to its own advantage or is that not the case?

Vladimir Putin : Now regarding the weaknesses and strengths of Europe, what that means and what our position is. No doubt, we want to have a reliable, strong and – this is not unimportant – independent partner. If, in dealing with matters related to building our relations, the relations between Europe and Russia, we have to turn to third countries or to a third country, then it is not interesting for us to talk with Europe as such .

A recent European politician said that all European countries are small states, but not everyone has realised it yet. By the way, I disagree with that, because there are great powers in Europe. I will not enumerate them now for fear of failing to mention any. We treat them accordingly. How Europe should build relations internally is none of our business.

There are two positions, and you know this better than I do: a Europe of sovereignties, a Europe of independent states with a small common superstructure or quasi-federative state. Today, the number of binding decisions on EU member countries, decisions passed by the European Parliament, is more than the number of decisions passed by the USSR Supreme Soviet that were mandatory for the Soviet republics. This is a fairly high degree of centralisation . Whether or not it benefits Europe, I do not know, it is for them to decide, not us.

The fact that there are differences over migration or some other things, that too is up to the Europeans to tackle. Of course, those European countries that oppose the current migration policy are concerned over the degree of their participation in decision making. They do not like it when someone at the top imposes solutions they consider unacceptable for themselves. It is not with us that such countries as Poland or Hungary should discuss those issues, and they are not doing that of course, they are discussing them with Brussels, with European capitals.

But no matter how relations inside Europe take shape, we are interested in developing relations with Europe and we will strive to do that. Naturally, we would like Europe to speak in one voice so that it could be a partner that one could talk to – that is what really matters to us. But if that is not the case, we will look for opportunities to talk at the national level of individual states, with each of our partners in Europe . Although that is what actually happens now: we solve some issues with the European Commission and others at the national level with individual European countries. On the whole, it suits us. TheinternalstructureofEuropeisnotourproblem.

Ilya Petrenko: I would like to ask about democracy in the context of the recent election in the United States . American politicians, perhaps more than any others, love to talk about democracy. They say democracy is what makes the American people exceptional. Sometimes they say that some countries lack democracy, and they then have to share their democracy with these countries. But after this election, these same people who proudly bore the banner of ‘American democracy’, suddenly started saying that they have been betrayed after the result of a democratic election in their own country.

Vladimir Putin : As for the subject of democracy, yes, there are problems. This is something we have long been saying, but our American partners always dismissed it. The problem lies above all in the United States’ archaic electoral system . The two-stage election (not through direct secret ballot) of first the electors and then the electors electing the president. And then it is organised in such a way that some of the states retain preferences..

You would have to ask the American lawmakers why the system is as it is. Perhaps it was done deliberately so as to let people in particular states keep hold of their privileges. This is the American people’s own affair, however, and not our business.

But it is very clear that the party which calls itself Democratic and will remain in power until January 20, I think, has forgotten the original meaning of its name. This is particularly so if you look at the absolutely shameless way they used administrative resources in their favour, and the calls to not accept the voters’ decision and appeals to the electors . As I already said, this is not a good thing. But I hope that once the electoral passions have died down, America, which is a great country, will draw the needed conclusions and keep them in mind for future elections.

Denis Polyakov: Thank you for an opportunity to ask a question. My name is Denis Polyakov. I am from the Perm Region, city of Kungur, Iskra newspaper.

In November, all Russians cheered Sergei Karyakin who made a good showing in the match for the world chess championship with Norway’s Magnus Carlsen , the current world champion. In one of his interviews after the match, Karyakin expressed the hope that there will be the same kind of attention and support for chess not only at major sporting events but day to day, that chess for children and young people will be supported and the White Rook tournament will get a boost.

I would like to ask the following question. There is basically no support for chess in our Kama Region, or Kungur for that matter. We have a very good chess coach Alexander Letov but when he offers to run chess clubs in schools, he is told there are other extracurricular priorities: fine arts, dancing and the like. And probably there are coaches like Letov in other places.

So my question is: Mr President, how will we promote chess in the foreseeable future? Will chess as an extracurricular activity be given the green light? Thank you very much.

Vladimir Putin: To begin with, I do not think I have the right to interfere in the decisions of municipal and even regional authorities on what should be added or removed from the school programme. This is a very sensitive issue: do they need chess or not during school hours or even after school? Such issues should be resolved at the local level and they often fall within the competence of schools themselves, not municipalities.

That said, we should take pride in the Russian school of chess . We know all about Russia’s outstanding chess players, such as Alekhine and our current outstanding players. We are proud of our chess players and our chess school. You know, we have established a special chess section at the Sirius centre for gifted children in Sochi, where chess classes are organised at the proper level. Naturally, this is not enough. We must promote chess throughout the country . I am hoping that the local government in Perm will also pay attention to chess and will support the coach you mentioned and all chess lovers.

As for Karyakin, he really did a great job, excellent. Magnus is a very good, outstanding chess grandmaster. Our player honourably represented Russia, our chess school. He is a fighter and I am sure victories await him in the future.

Nikolai Dolgachev: Nikolai Dolgachev, the Kaliningrad TV company, a branch of the VGTRK.

I am also a member of the public council for the construction of the bridge in Crimea. I would like to take up a point made by my colleague who asked the question and called it the Kerch Bridge. The fact is that we do not have an official name yet. It is called Crimea Bridge. We have the Crimea Bridge information centre. It is also called the Kerch Bridge, the Russian Bridge and the Crimea Is Ours Bridge. There are a lot of names. So here is my first question: Which of these names do you prefer and what name would you propose?

And another important point. The bridge will be built in the foreseeable future, rather quickly. What will the next super-project be? Maybe something in Kaliningrad?

Vladimir Putin: Regarding the name of the bridge, as I said, whatever people call it, that will be the name. A poll, a referendum may even be held. What is important is that there is a bridge. As to what it is called, this is important but still only a secondary matter. If some name has caught on – say, the Kerch Bridge – let it be that.

Kaliningrad has its own priorities to deal with. One is the issue of energy independence, energy self-sufficiency. It is a very important matter, related to building our relations with, among others, the European Union. The European Union has taken a decision that the Baltic countries should be part of their integrated energy system. This creates problems for energy supplies to Kaliningrad and requires additional financial resources from us in order to build a new energy ring and include Kaliningrad into that ring.

Frankly, I do not understand why this is being done, considering that there are no problems with energy supplies to the Baltic countries. Everything is working, and working well. Our European partners keep telling us that we need to forge closer ties and search for areas where we could draw closer together, but here, on the contrary, without any apparent reason, they are disrupting relations – in this case, in the highly sensitive and important energy sphere.

Nevertheless, we will resolve the problem of stable and independent energy supply to Kaliningrad. As you know, there are plans to deliver liquefied natural gas and build corresponding power stations. The use of Russian-built small nuclear power plants is not ruled out. This is a key issue with regard to Kaliningrad’s development and the creation of a power base for economic growth .

Question: Good afternoon, esteemed Mr President. I am KhashaviMukhammad from TV channel Kurdistan 24.

I have the following question. As you know, the Kurds have played a big part in fighting international terrorism, and Russia today plays a major and important role in the world, particularly in the Middle East. What is Russia’s position regarding the fact that the Kurds of Iraqi Kurdistan have already set out on the road to independence?

Vladimir Putin:Russia has always had good special relations with the Kurdish people. The Kurdish people have their very own complicated history. We see what is happening now in the Middle East. I can note and confirm that Kurdish combat units are fighting very courageously and effectively against international terrorism.

As for the question of sovereignty and independence of part of whichever country, our position is that we will act within the framework of international law and, ultimately, the Kurdish people will see their rights guaranteed , but the form this takes and how it will be done will depend on Iraq and on the Kurdish people itself.

We have been and remain in contact with both Baghdad and Erbil, but we have no intention of intervening in internal Iraqi affairs.

Sebastian Rauball: Thank you very much for the chance to put a question. How do you see 2017 in terms of relations with the West, looking at the possibility of a new start in Russia’s relations with the USA? Now, following the terrorist attack in Berlin, do you think it is perhaps worth looking at improving relations?

Vladimir Putin: Regarding developing relations between Russia and Europe, I already answered your Polish colleague on this subject. It was not we who initiated the worsening in relations with Europe, including with Germany. We did not impose any sanctions on European countries, including Germany, none at all. All we did was to take measures in response to the restrictions imposed on our economy. We would be happy to lift these measures if our partners, including in Europe, lift the anti-Russian sanctions, even though our farmers are asking us not to do this.

What happened after all? Let’s take an objective look at the events that brought us to such a situation. Our American and European friends initially acted as guarantors for the agreement reached between President Yanukovych and the opposition, but the next day, the agreements were broken and power was seized. Instead of condemning an anti-constitutional coup and calling for execution of the agreement to which the foreign ministers of three European countries – France, Germany and Poland – had put their signatures, they supported this anti-constitutional coup .

This resulted in the people living in Crimea wanting to reunite with Russia, Ukraine losing Crimea, and the sad, tragic and bloody events in Donbass..

But what was at the start of all of these developments? It’s amazing to think, but at the start of this whole tragedy was the failure to reach agreements on Ukraine’s accession to, of all things, an association agreement with the European Union. How could issues of a purely economic nature end up taking on such a new dimension and lead to such tragedies?

Were we the ones who initiated this chain of events? No, of course not. We spent years asking to have this agreement’s main parameters settled with us. Mr Yanukovych said too in the end that, “I want to join this agreement, but I need to reflect on the accession terms and settle them within our own government and consult with Russia, because we have very close economic ties with Russia and we need the Russian market. We have a high level of cooperation.” But our European partners said no. How can one act that way? We therefore do not consider ourselves to blame for what happened. We did not start this chain of events.

By the way, what happened then and what is happening now? After the coup was staged under the guise of joining the Association Agreement, the association was postponed. Immediately. So, they did exactly what Yanukovych proposed to do. They dragged it out for a year or even more, then wrote that they made a decision on ratification and postponed the association once again. And what is going on now? A referendum was held in the Netherlands, and Europe does not want to implement it any more. I really don’t even know what to make of this..

Now we are talking about visa-free travel for Ukrainian citizens. But it is on hold, and if it proceeds, it will be implemented in the truncated form and, obviously, will put labour migrants coming from Ukraine to Europe in a completely embarrassing position. Wouldn"t it be better if they could work together, calmly and without any fuss, and reach an agreement on how to collaborate?

What kind of relations do we seek to build with Europe? We aim to resolve common problems, one of which is certainly the fight against terrorism.

We express our condolences to the families of those killed in Berlin and wish a speedy recovery to all those injured. But I have repeatedly said, including in my speech at the UN 70th anniversary session, that this problem can be settled effectively only though joint efforts. But how can we join our efforts with anti-Russian sanctions and reciprocal measures imposed and all forms of cooperation scaled down? What can be done if, for instance, our British colleagues have completely curtailed relations with Russia’s Federal Security Service? So, can we talk about efficient work on the anti-terrorist track? Absolutely not. So, as a result, we take hits, heavy and painful.

I really hope that our cooperation will be restored.

Maxim Rumyantsev: Maxim Rumyantsev, Free Journalism Centre, Yekaterinburg.

Mr Putin, I will follow up on the subject of environmental protection.

Rosatom is building strategic facilities under a federal targeted programme. Today ISIS-like environmental cells are operating in Russia but they are staging industrial terror against the background of the fight against the issue of ecology. These people have nothing to do with environmental protection, and some groups have been identified as foreign agents.

I would like to know how you filter the appeals that are continuously being sent to the Presidential Executive Office.

This industrial blackmail is interfering both with Rosatom and other industrial enterprises. In our Ural Federal District this system of manipulation has replaced public and political opinion: I am referring to the Tominsky ore mining and dressing plant. In other words, foreign agents and these NGOs, including environmentalists, have been sent to an advanced enterprise that is to be built in Chelyabinsk Region.

Vladimir Putin : About environmental groups, and how we separate those who are sincerely striving to preserve our nature from those who want to make money on it.

You know, this is not even about foreign agents, although environmental groups are sometimes used by our competitors to slow down a growing segment or a Russian infrastructure project, as in your case, and so on.

I remember very well how foreign governments “charged” some environmental groups during the construction of some marine or port infrastructure facilities. We knew for certain how much money was spent on disrupting various projects that are now in operation, thank God. However, this does not mean that we should neglect environmental issues. This applies to Rosatom, possibly above all.

However, Rosatom is one of the world’s leading companies, and its modern, post-Fukushima technology is recognised by the IAEA and international experts as the safest in the world. This is an absolutely obvious fact. We have taken into account all disasters in the Soviet Union and the rest of the world in this area. We have developed truly safe technologies, but nobody is immune to the abuse of environmental issues.

CCTV: Good afternoon Mr President.

I would like to develop the subject my colleague from Rossiya-24 started. The global situation is becoming more complicated. There are refugees and terrorist attacks in Europe, the Middle East remains unstable, and now the USA has a new president. In this situation, what new approaches should major powers such as Russia and China find to resolve global and regional problems, and how will this influence our relations? Thank you..

Vladimir Putin: It is common knowledge that Russia and China have very close relations. We are all familiar with the term ‘strategic partnership’, but the ties that Russia and China have developed over recent years are more than a simple strategic partnership . China is our biggest trade and economic partner as far as individual countries go. Yes, our trade turnover has fallen a little due to objective circumstances (above all, the drop in energy prices), but we are diversifying our relations and I am especially pleased to see that our trade in the high-tech sectors and in industrial production has grown significantly of late.

We have big projects in aircraft manufacturing, and good prospects in the space sector, and in energy, including nuclear energy. We have some good undertakings in infrastructural projects, and I hope they will all go ahead. We are developing [cooperation] and will continue to do so, despite the difficulties that exist – I will not go into the details now – in the transition to settling our trade and economic accounts in our national currencies, all the more so now that the yuan has become one of the International Monetary Fund’s reserve currencies, an event on which I congratulate our Chinese colleagues. We have common views on many issues on the international agenda, and I am certain that this will be a major stabilising factor in international affairs. We value our ties with China and hope to continue developing them.

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