The Prime Minister talked with Sergei Brilyov, host of the Vesti v Subbotu (News on Saturday) programme.
Sergei Brilyov: Mr Medvedev, under the law 10 people could lead the federal list, but you lead it alone. Isn’t this scary?
Dmitry Medvedev: What’s scary about it? We have a certain way of forming the list. Today the list looks as follows: it is led by the party chairman. I think this is only natural. The regional part is next. Apart from the surname of the party chairman, every voter will see a regional list with three names of people he or she may know – people who work in the region. It could be a governor or simply a well known person or someone else.
Sergei Brilyov: There were primaries but several unexpected names appeared on these lists during the convention. Yes, Poklonskaya was mentioned but Vyacheslav Volodin’s return to the Duma…
Dmitry Medvedev: Indeed, several new names appeared there. I’ll explain a bit later how it happened. I think each of these new nominees can win just like Mr Volodin, a seasoned politician who was elected to the Duma from the Saratov Region several times. I think this is a kind of a test for the political system related to the emergence of primaries within United Russia - incidentally, he was involved in primaries during his work in the administration because it was engaged in politics anyway. Now he has decided to see what he is capable of. I don’t think this is bad at all.
Sergei Brilyov: Mr Medvedev, I’d like to ask you about your 40-minute speech at the United Russia conference. Can you tell us in broad brushstrokes about United Russia’s main election slogans?
Dmitry Medvedev: This is easy. United Russia is working towards the upcoming elections with a clear understanding of its responsibility to its electorate and all people of Russia. Of course, we have also formulated out proposals for the continued sustainable development of the country. Sustainable development is the main focus point of our election programme.
I will tell you what we really propose. We are prepared to continue the most important social programmes, including the payment of maternity capital and other benefits, and improve the pension system. These proposals have been included in the United Russia programme along with proposals on improving the economy, the industrial policy and agricultural development.
I will not speak at length about what we discussed at the conference, but I want to mention one thing – agriculture. We have managed to develop our agricultural industry to a level when we are able to feed ourselves. Not just that – we are exporting grain and some other agriculture products. Why am I talking about this now? Few people remember or know that the Soviet Union imported large amounts of grain. Our political opponents keep talking about the Soviet Union’s agricultural achievements. What achievements were these when there was not enough food in shops?
Sergei Brilyov: Yes, I agree. Let’s talk some more then. You mentioned several proposals such as adjusting pensions to inflation, increasing doctors’ and teachers’ salaries and maternity capital, which calls for stability and large-scale financing. Do we have this kind of money, considering the current economic challenges?
Dmitry Medvedev: We have a safety margin. What is it based on? It is based on that same macroeconomic stability which sometimes comes under criticism. Nevertheless, this stability is a highly important factor in our lives. If we lose this stability, we will face a situation reminiscent of the 1990s, including runaway inflation and staple food shortages. Therefore, it is impossible to mechanically top up the budget funding and start printing money, as our opponents and even some of our supporters sometimes suggest. This is dangerous.
Sergei Brilyov: Are you talking about the Stolypin Club here?
Dmitry Medvedev: I am not talking about anyone, I am simply talking about proposals to print money without restraint and issue cheap loans. In theory, it sounds great, but this may spell high inflation, well in excess of the projected 6 percent level for 2017. In fact, we are aiming to bring inflation down to 4 percent. This is a completely different story.
Therefore the economy has a substantial safety margin, and we hope that this safety margin will make it possible to accomplish all of the programme’s socioeconomic objectives.
Sergei Brilyov: Mr Medvedev, you have let out a secret.
Dmitry Medvedev: What are you talking about?
Sergei Brilyov: You have mentioned your main rivals. You have spoken dismissively about the Stolypin Club. Before that, you said: “Our opponents tell us about agriculture in the Soviet Union.” It’s clear that you mean the Communist Party of the Russian Federation. Who do you think is United Russia’s main rival during these elections?
Dmitry Medvedev: What’s so unique about United Russia’s position? On the one hand, United Russia is currently the largest party that has the people’s trust. It is a ruling party in every sense of the word. This is its strong point, and this also makes the party vulnerable because United Russia comes under criticism just like any other ruling party.
Therefore we don’t need to prove anything to anyone. In the past ten to twelve years, United Russia has presented its achievements through its practical work. There may have been some miscalculations because any political force makes them in its work. We don’t intend to wage a political extermination campaign, to wage tough political debates with certain political forces, etc. Therefore, I have directed everyone to conduct a political campaign and political debates in the most polite manner possible.
Sergei Brilyov: As far as I know, you are not nominating any United Russia candidates in two one candidate districts, so as not to complicate things for the Communists and A Just Russia party.
Dmitry Medvedev: We should all be realistic, and this concerns politics, too. We should be guided by pragmatic considerations. What considerations am I talking about? Instead of thinking of how to make it to the top by pushing everyone aside with our fists and elbows, we need to think about our country, about our people who live here. We should realise that our opponents have a stronger position in some election districts. In principle, we should retain a normal working relationship with our political rivals, including those I call opponents. This includes our State Duma colleagues, other parliamentary parties and all other parties. Let me remind you that at the moment, Russia has over 70 political parties.
Sergei Brilyov: How many parties will make it to the next State Duma?
Dmitry Medvedev: Political forecasts are a rather unrewarding task. I don’t think that all parties will make it to the State Duma. But 14 parties have been exempted from collecting signatures, and all of them are sure to take part in the elections. In that case, only the people of Russia can determine who will make it to the State Duma.
Sergei Brilyov: But in your view does a working parliament consist of four, five, six or how many parties?
Dmitry Medvedev: The Russian parliament has its own specifics. As I see it, the current parliamentary line-up, and I am not talking about specific political players here, makes it possible to accomplish various objectives. Instead of endlessly debating, competing and proving who is the best, the parliament has to adopt responsible decisions and pass legislation. When is it possible to pass important and strategically essential legislation? This becomes possible when members of parliament (political forces) can reach consensus.
As you probably remember, it was impossible to pass a number of highly important laws in the 1990s. This did not happen because people were unable to comprehend the importance of these laws but because political forces remained clinched and all efforts were wasted on the political struggle and political whistle-blowing. In the past 15-16 years, or so, we have had an efficient parliament that can pass legislation by creating a normal political majority. It was first united around the President and later managed to prove that it was necessary to maintain this system during the 2003, 2007 and 2011 elections. Sometimes the parliament is criticised for passing a certain law too quickly and for overlooking some aspect. This also happens. But the parliament’ failure to adopt decisions is even worse, and this has already happened in our history.
Sergei Brilyov: I would like to mention one aspect concerning one candidate districts. Let’s take northwestern Russia, a place where you feel at home.
Dmitry Medvedev: I feel perfectly at home in all 85 Russian regions. And this is not some kind of a metaphor because I have visited all of them.
Sergei Brilyov: Nevertheless, let’s talk about northwestern Russia, your home region. In the previous elections, the Leningrad Region had Sergei Naryshkin, the incumbent State Duma Speaker, running for office there, and that was a big advantage. But St Petersburg, the Neva city, had Vitaly Milonov running for the State Duma at a local one candidate district. As far as I understand, United Russia members are divided when it comes to this candidate. Did you feel tempted to revise and adjust the results of primaries in some cases?
Dmitry Medvedev: Look, why did we borrow this concept called primaries, a nice-sounding foreign word that simply means preliminary elections? We have done this to determine the true leaders. True leaders are those who have the people’s trust. True leaders can be very different. They are liked by some and mistrusted by others. Some people consider their statements as radical, while others think they are too meek. As for the results of preliminary elections, they indicate the level of support from the people, who show that they like this United Russia candidate more than that one. We cannot ignore their opinion. At least, this is what primaries are held for in all countries, including the most advanced ones, which are described as developed democracies. Why should be change this system? If we do, people will ask us how it happened that the candidate they had voted for and liked the most, the one who really said the things they believed, was replaced by some other candidate by decision of some officials. Therefore, we have agreed to maintain the results of this preliminary election exactly because 10 percent of the electorate attended it. This is a great deal! And these people actually came to the polling stations to support one party, United Russia. Can we betray them after that?
Sergei Brilyov: Will these candidates continue the campaign in one candidate districts?
Dmitry Medvedev: Yes, they will. Candidates will be running in one candidate districts and within party lists.
Overall, we have 400 candidates on party lists and 207 who will run in one candidate districts. Taken together, we have 607 candidates who include both members of United Party and sympathisers.
Sergei Brilyov: But there are only 450 seats in the Duma.
Dmitry Medvedev: Yes, we have more than enough candidates. This will give people the opportunity to choose and is also evidence of their views on the political situation in election districts.
Sergei Brilyov: I have my last question about the election system. During the previous State Duma elections, the top candidates on many regional lists were deputy prime ministers: Shuvalov in the Far East, and Zubkov was on the lists too, if I remember correctly.
Dmitry Medvedev: Yes, you do.
Sergei Brilyov: And so on. But I see that this time there are no deputy prime ministers, but there are governors on the election lists. Why is that?
Dmitry Medvedev: First, we have resumed the system of preliminary elections for selecting candidates.
Sergei Brilyov: And then governors were added at the party conference.
Dmitry Medvedev: Indeed, there are several new people among the 607 candidates, or more precisely 19 candidates who represent the regions. Of these, 10 candidates are heads of republics and the other nine are regional governors. They are real public leaders, who are respected in their regions and in many other parts of our large country, if not the whole of it.
Sergei Brilyov: In fact, each North Caucasus region has its own list.
Dmitry Medvedev: Yes, this is a feature of the North Caucasus. United Russia is not working in a vacuum. We must respect people’s views, their likes and dislikes and political customs. This is logical. We must adjust our operation to the people’s real and tenable views on the political situation, which is why we have added 19 governors to our lists. There’s no harm in this, because we have not changed the general principle, but we have added candidates who can rally the electorate. Our voters will see these candidates, these regional leaders during the election campaign and later on the list from which they will need to select the candidates they will vote for on the election day.
Sergei Brilyov: Is this an opportunity to double-check their course, or do you expect some of these governors to work in the State Duma?
Dmitry Medvedev: Let’s not try to predict election results. We still have to complete all stages of the election campaign before we break the tape. As a result of the previous elections, some governors took seats in the State Duma and some government members, for example Alexander Zhukov, returned to the State Duma where he worked before taking up a post in the government. This is normal. This is life.
Sergei Brilyov: So, you don’t rule out the possibility of this happening again, right?
Dmitry Medvedev: We must not rule out anything that can benefit the country.
Sergei Brilyov: Mr Medvedev, I cannot miss the opportunity to ask you other questions apart from elections. President Putin has decided to defreeze our relations with Turkey and to start improving them. After the government meeting on Thursday, you said that the measures introduced after the well-known events would be lifted in stages. We already know that travel to Turkey will resume. But if we look at the Turkish imports in the past months – I have analysed the data, for example, on tomato imports – we will see that nearly all of Turkish imports have been replaced with Moroccan or domestic products.
Dmitry Medvedev: Have you noticed any changes if you compare Russian-grown products and those that used to be imported before restrictions were introduced?
Sergei Brilyov: Frankly, no, I haven’t.
Dmitry Medvedev: This is the best proof that we can feed ourselves. We still have to import some products, for example the fruit that are not grown in our country.
Sergei Brilyov: This is interesting. Anyway, will you reverse this process now?
Dmitry Medvedev: The President has decided that we should normalise relations, or rather resume our cooperation [with Turkey]. He has instructed the Government to launch talks on normalising bilateral trade and economic ties.
As per the President’s executive order, the Government will hold talks with our Turkish partners. The ministers and deputy prime ministers will do this, and I am ready to join these efforts.
What is the essence of the matter? To begin with, we must give our people who like to travel to Turkey an opportunity to do so in this year’s summer season in accordance with the Presidential executive order and decisions taken at the government meeting, as I have told the ministers. We have decided to lift the recommendation for our travel industry not to offer package tours to Turkey and also to resume charter flights, which our people mostly booked for travelling to Turkey. However, there is a crucial condition. There was a terrorist attack in Turkey recently, and unfortunately, it was not the first such attack. Therefore, security must remain our top priority.
As for other issues, the process will proceed in stages based on the resumption of our trade and economic cooperation and the resolution of a number of related political questions, including visas. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves. We are ready to negotiate all of these issues with our Turkish colleagues. But as I said at the Government meeting on Thursday, it is obvious that we will not adjust our economy to suit the requirements of any other state, even such a large trade partner as Turkey.
I would like to remind you that Turkey accounted for some 5 percent of our foreign trade before our relations deteriorated, and this is a very large share. But what happened, happened, and we are not to blame for it. Other countries have taken up the economic niches vacated by Turkey, including in agriculture, the travel business and some other areas of cooperation. It is logical that we will not sever relations with those who have come to our market in good faith or indicate that there will be some change now that the Turkish suppliers of goods and services are returning to our market. Everything will remain as it is. This also concerns our relations with the EU, which remains a major partner. However, our trade has greatly declined, and many economic niches that were held by suppliers from the EU and some other countries are no longer vacant. When it’s gone, it’s gone. These are the losses we had warned our partners about.
Sergei Brilyov: I see. Thank you, Mr Medvedev.