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Vladimir Putin answered journalists’ questions during his working trip to Leningrad Region

August 7, 2012, Zerkalny, Leningrad Region

In particular, the President commented on the open letter written by musician Andrei Makarevich on the level of corruption in Russia, and the statement by former Chief of the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces Yury Baluyevsky on Russia’s involvement in Georgian-South Ossetian conflict.

* * *

Question: With the fourth anniversary of the conflict in South Ossetia upon us, let me ask you about the documentary film, “A Lost Day of War”, that has appeared in the internet. I do not know if you have seen it or not. 

President of Russia Vladimir Putin: No, when did it come out?

Question: It’s not out yet, available only on the internet.

A number of figures, including Chief of the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces Yury Baluyevsky, state quite firmly in this documentary that indecisiveness cost Russia the first day of the war in the Caucasus, and as a result, people were killed.

In particular, Baluyevsky says that until you gave a few kicks and got people moving, everyone was in a state of hesitation. What can you say about this? What was the real situation? Could you comment?

Vladimir Putin: The level and nature of the relations between my colleagues and I, and the kinds of decisions we make, especially in matters of security, do not allow us to talk of things in these sorts of terms.

Question: Where was our military intelligence?

Vladimir Putin: It was working. I think the military intelligence did its job.

Question: So, you do not agree with the film’s makers, who think that Russia lost a day in the war?

”The kinds of decisions we make in matters of security do not allow us to talk of things in these sorts of terms [commenting on the opinion that indecisiveness cost Russia the first day of war in the Caucasus]. A decision to use the armed forces is a very serious matter indeed. You need to think ever so carefully before making such a decision.“

Vladimir Putin: A decision to use the armed forces is a very serious matter indeed, because it amounts to an order to begin military operations, which means there will be shooting and loss of life. You need to think ever so carefully before making such a decision. This is a very difficult and responsible matter.

Question: So, did it take long?

Vladimir Putin: Well, I don’t know if you could call it long or not, you can calculate it for yourselves.

Question: A night at least?

Vladimir Putin: More like three days.

Question: Three days?

Vladimir Putin: Yes, of course. When did the troops actually start their offensive, start shooting? Somewhere around the 4th or 5th, if I recall. I don’t remember exactly, but I think it was on the 5th.

Response: But the Georgian army was already in action at this point.

Vladimir Putin: Yes, it’s them I’m referring too. Their troops started their offensive somewhere around the 4th or 5th, and on the 6th mass shooting began with artillery fire, tanks, and multiple rocket launchers. 

Question: Sorry, who spent three days thinking, them or us?

Vladimir Putin: It was them who launched the attack. We know the subsequent development of events. But let me stress again that deciding to use the armed forces is a very serious matter, and so of course you need to think it through properly first. You always need to think carefully first.

Question: Mr President, on a different subject, newspaper Moskovsky Komsomolets published on its website yesterday an open letter addressed to you by [musician] Andrei Makarevich, which has drawn a big reaction. Have you seen the letter? Could you comment on the issue he raised?

Vladimir Putin: I read the letter on my way here to the meeting today. What can I say? We are all aware of the corruption problem. We’ve been talking about it constantly over these last years. Corruption is a tough problem for any society. In some countries it is less of an issue, and in others it is extremely serious. I think Russia falls into this second category.

Unfortunately, corruption is a big issue in practically all transition economies because there are still a lot of unregulated matters within the economy itself, and the legal regulatory framework is still only being put into place. Corruption is a two-way street, and so it would have been fitting to send a second letter to the business community too, since they are heavily involved too in provoking the kinds of situations that allow corruption to flourish.

By the way, the law places equal responsibility on the bribe-giver and the bribe-taker. As for the fact that the authorities must step up their fight against corruption, this is absolutely clear.

This is not a simple task. It cannot be resolved through punitive measures alone but requires a multifaceted approach that includes an educational dimension and development of the economic conditions and instruments that would make it possible to eradicate this scourge. This must be a multifaceted effort that involves the whole of society, including the media.

Question: Mr President, if Makarevich is so clever and writes about corruption, maybe you could make him one of your advisers?

Response: An adviser on fighting corruption, together with [Alexei] Navalny.

”Corruption is, unfortunately, a two-way street, and so it would have been fitting [for Andrei Makarevich] to send a second letter to the business community, since they are heavily involved too in provoking the kinds of situations that allow corruption to flourish.“

Vladimir Putin: That people are drawing attention to this problem is already a good thing. I doubt that they can tell us how to actually eradicate corruption or propose effective methods for fighting it, though they do of course highlight the general directions in which we need to move.

That we need to develop our democratic institutions, civil society and the media is all very correct. This is all needed, but it is not enough in itself. More deep-reaching and serious work is also needed. We must change people’s thinking. I mentioned the need to appeal to the business community too. After all, they also contribute in large measure to fostering corruption in their efforts to gain the advantage over their business rivals, including in battles for state, municipal and regional procurement contracts.

Question: Mr President, let’s turn to the Olympics. There’s still plenty of time before the Games end, but I think one could say that we’ve never seen such a defeat yet as we’re seeing this time, and I’m not just talking about the situation compared to when it was the Soviet team competing, but even past Games in which we competed as the Russian Federation. What’s your opinion?

Vladimir Putin: There have been problems with events in which our sports organisers and specialists hoped for medals, and in other events we have won gold where we did not expect it. All of our victories are the result of thorough and meticulous preparation. Sport is sport and we will have to look at the results for the Games as a whole and only then assess what was successful and what was not.

Question: I think everyone knows now that we don’t have any children’s sports schools of the kind we used to have.

”To eradicate corruption, we must change people’s thinking.“

Vladimir Putin: I have already spoken publicly on this matter. We do have children’s sports schools and some of them are preparing our future Olympic pool of athletes. But all of these sports schools are under the Education Ministry’s jurisdiction and in practice are therefore organised and supported at the local government level, and this goes for their financing too. 

In the world of modern sport this is obviously not enough, and, as in some other areas of life and work, we will have to take another look at what the Soviet period accomplished, in other words, we will have to transfer these sports schools to the Sports Ministry and ensure proper financing for their equipment and material needs. What we have at the local government level is not enough. It is difficult to make all of the necessary investment at this level.

Furthermore, these schools as they are at the moment do not have the mission of producing top international-level professionals, and this is also important. They have their own tasks and base their methods on the Education Ministry’s standards and objectives – developing harmonious and well-rounded individuals and so on. This is all very good, but it is not enough for building up an Olympic reserve, which requires a more narrowly specialised approach.

Question: Mr President, in three days’ time, Anatoly Sobchak would have celebrated his 75th birthday. Do you think someone like him is needed in our country today?

Vladimir Putin: Of course, there is always a need for such people.

As I have said many times before, Mr Sobchak was a great patriot and a very progressive person, very decent, honest and open. In some things this was his plus, and in some things perhaps a minus, but then again, he was not a politician in the traditional sense of the word.

He did not speak in nuances but was always direct and to the point, and this even caused him a few problems as a politician, but as an individual he was an outstanding person, someone out of the ordinary, and such people are always needed in our country.

Thank you very much.

August 7, 2012, Zerkalny, Leningrad Region