The Prime Minister took questions from the channel’s correspondent Dmitry Shchugorev
Excerpts from the transcript:
Question: Mr Mishustin, you have delivered your first report on the Government’s annual performance to the State Duma. It is quite clear that almost all of it had to do with the coronavirus pandemic, which also affected you yourself. How did you contract the virus? And what helped you to recover so quickly? It is rumoured that you still had a high temperature when you got back to work.
Mikhail Mishustin: Well, the virus does not discriminate on the basis of authority. Unfortunately, it is extremely dangerous. It is not even clear how it spreads. There are very many versions. To be quite honest with you, I don’t know how I caught the virus.
As for my speedy recovery, I can tell you that it was a far from simple process. Yes, I had a very high temperature, but as for my quick recovery, this is not quite so. It was quite a complicated case.
As soon as I felt better, I immediately resumed my duties. I would like to say that it was the doctors who greatly contributed to what you described as my speedy recovery. My mother is a medical nurse with many years of experience, and I have admired doctors since childhood, because there were very many “people in white coats” around me – my mother’s friends and acquaintances. Moreover, I even wanted to enrol at a medical institute before accepting a job at the taxation service. Yes, I was really considering this. I am sure that all those who have overcome the coronavirus infection have huge respect for our doctors, who actually sacrificed their time, contacts with their families, and even their very own health and lives to help them. I would like to take this opportunity to say thank you to our doctors for what they are doing. Their job is far from simple; it involves constant interaction with their patients, as well as psychological connection. I wish that all the doctors around the world worked like our Russian doctors.
Question: Yes, I wish that as well.
Mr Mishustin, I believe it would not be wrong to say that this was not the worst part for you. You probably did not imagine you would have to encounter this problem when you became prime minister. What has helped you to quickly adjust to dealing with fundamentally different problems?
Mikhail Mishustin: When you agree to work with the Government, especially as prime minister, you cannot imagine the range of challenges you may have to deal with. The offer to work with the Government was made by President of Russia Vladimir Putin, and I believed I would have to deal with the main tasks and objectives set out in his January address. However, the pandemic has changed everything. Of course, it was very difficult, considering that the implementation of the measures set out in the Presidential Address, such as the national projects and the national goals, was complicated by the problem of the pandemic, when I had to take decisions absolutely every day regarding the stationing of additional hospital beds, the development of methods of treatment, the training of medical specialists and the purchase and manufacturing of PPE. It was a huge challenge, and I believe it is for the people to decide how well we coped. But it is extremely important that we have made it through this complicated period with results that are probably among the best in the world. I am referring to the death rate and the test kits – I believe that we now have about a hundred different test kits in Russia.
Question: Of course, and we also have vaccines, which are undergoing clinical trials, as far as I am aware. Mr Mishustin, Vladimir Putin has said that there are two priority tasks, and that the choice was between saving the economy and saving lives. The choice was actually obvious. However, I will ask a difficult question. We have spent huge funds, probably trillions of roubles that served as a safety cushion. Therefore, the most frequent question people ask is about the possibility of a second wave.
Mikhail Mishustin: Any pandemic is a challenge. The current pandemic has slowed down our economic growth, as you know. It reduced the revenues of the budgets at all levels and has affected a great many people as well as companies and various establishments. As for our reserves or the safety cushion, as you put it, I would like to assure everyone that our macroeconomic stability and the revenues previously collected by the budgets at all levels allow us to feel comfortable and stable. I believe that we will have at least 8 trillion roubles in the National Wealth Fund by the end of the year. This is the first thing. Second, our gold and currency reserves remain stable; they are currently worth more than $570 billion. So, there are no grounds for concern; we have enough funds to finance all the strategic national goals set out, as you know, in the recent presidential executive order up to 2030, as well as the national projects, which are our responsibility. I would like to add that the measures we have taken were clearly formulated and they have produced the desired results. We have maintained the demand and supported the people in a difficult period. Of course, we have also adopted a great number of support measures for our companies, which were set out in the national plan.
Will we have a second wave of the coronavirus infection? As of today, we are reporting a large-scale decrease in the number of new coronavirus cases throughout the country. The figure is 0.2 to 0.3 percent in Moscow and below 1 percent around the country. The speed of the virus spreading is slowing down, and its virulence is decreasing. Therefore, only researchers can answer the question about the second wave, if they see signs pointing in that direction. So far, our specialists and researchers do not see any signs of this. So, let’s hope that there will not be a second wave, provided we comply with the recommendations of Rospotrebnadzor and our doctors.
Question: It is often said that a crisis – and we currently are witnessing a global crisis – yields unique opportunities. People said the same thing in 2014, when there was a crisis and when the agricultural industry managed to take advantage of the situation. Maybe we should help some sectors of the Russian economy, such as tourism, for instance? What if we do not open the borders and help develop domestic tourism?
Mikhail Mishustin: Tourism is a very important field. I believe that the Tourism national project provides a response to the challenges this sector is currently facing, including those caused by the pandemic. As of now, we have received the President’s approval and are developing the relevant measures of this project and will present it to everyone in the autumn. It would be tremendous if we could reveal the wonders of our country to ourselves, and I know there are wonderful places and resorts here. We need a good infrastructure, private investments and, of course, affordable tickets for all kinds of transport to get to these places.
Question: So it is not necessary to postpone the opening of the borders to give a boost to domestic tourism?
Mikhail Mishustin: It is better to create conditions for recreation in our country rather than close the borders. We need investments in the infrastructure, roads and utility lines so that we have all the holiday comforts that we need, such as gas and running water. We are also trying to come up with ways of making air and rail tickets more affordable. I hope that we will be able to give people a choice where to spend their holidays. It would be nice if they were to choose Russia.
Question: Going back to the action plan… Those people who came up with far-reaching historical projects such as the New Economic Policy or the Stolypin reforms, they also wanted the country to develop. But all of their projects failed due to the ineffective governance. Are you worried that you will have to face the same corruption, administrative barriers and negligence at the local level, that is, the usual performance failures?
Mikhail Mishustin: There is no doubt that the existing barriers must be overcome. But how can this be done? By changing the governance model. Everybody is talking about it now. At the moment we are analysing the most up-to-date management systems, including governance approaches. In particular, we created a centre for national projects to test all the recent achievements in management and to use them in the implementation of the national projects. I really hope that this strategic planning, system-wide approach and professionals who will be engaged in it will lead us to the results that we set to achieve before 2030.
Question: And when will we be able to see these results?
Mikhail Mishustin: Of course, we will be judged by clear performance indicators of the Government in the implementation of the national projects. These are precise numbers: kilometres of roads and square metres of renovated housing. And these indicators will be presented to the public after being adjusted due to a change in the national goals. They will be approved in the autumn. So these precise numbers will reveal whether the Government and economic sectors have been effective.
Question: All we ever hear about these days are national projects, national goals, national plan and the constitutional amendments. Could this mean that our priorities are about to change? How can the Government make long-term plans or set strict deadlines in this changing environment?
Mikhail Mishustin: Our priorities remain unchanged. If we look at the constitutional amendments, they sealed the priorities supported by a majority of Russians who voted for them. Today, the national projects operate as a tool for achieving these national goals. In this sense, what matters the most, as you have just mentioned, is how these goals can be achieved and how to structure our efforts, as well as how to change our governance model. I believe that everything is quite clear in this respect, in terms of both strategy and execution. All that is left is to make all this a reality.
Question: You have mentioned the national projects and infrastructure projects. All these initiatives need to be monitored constantly, if not in real time. How can this be done? Maybe online?
Mikhail Mishustin: Cabinet members and deputy prime ministers sometimes have to work around the clock to keep everything under control. It really all depends on how things are going and the timing imperatives we face. With the pandemic, our lives have changed. The President works around the clock, and can reach out to us at any moment. In this context, there is very little free time left. Today, the Government team focuses on serving the people, its primary function, in order to make life easier for the country and place serving the people front and centre in everything the state carries out.
Question: Does this leave you any time to do anything else, apart from your work? I once saw a photo of you wearing hockey gear, but not recently.
Mikhail Mishustin: All in due time, Dmitry. I hope that someday I will have more spare time in order to practice sports, among other things.
Remark: I would like to thank you very much for this conversation.
Mikhail Mishustin: Thank you.