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On first steps to implement National Projects (Interview to TASS News Agency)

February 25, 2020

The third 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.

Andrei Vandenko: The National Projects. This is a classic. The first step is always the hardest.

Vladimir Putin: Why?

Andrei Vandenko: At the end of the year, you said they still had not taken off.

Vladimir Putin: First, that is not what I said. Well, not exactly. That is the first thing.

Secondly, I always have to…

Andrei Vandenko: “People did not feel the results.” This is a quote, very close to the original.

Vladimir Putin: First of all, I have to not only constantly keep my finger on the pulse of things, but I have to keep them – those who are responsible for handling these tasks – all under pressure. And believe me…

Andrei Vandenko: Do you have to jolt them into action?

Vladimir Putin: Yes, jolting them into action is necessary. It is essential to keep people on top of their responsibility. They need to be under constant administrative pressure. Otherwise, as I have seen from sufficiently significant experience, as soon as the pressure, the heat is gone, people generally begin to slack off. This is why I said what I said. That is one thing.

Another thing is that it is true that not everything has been accomplished. Out of the 38 tasks set for this year, 26 have been accomplished, and the others have not.

Andrei Vandenko: For this year – do you mean 2019?

Vladimir Putin: The others have not been accomplished. Nevertheless, 26 targets were met. And you say that the people have not felt this yet.

Andrei Vandenko: It was you who said this.

Vladimir Putin: Well, yes, in some respects… I said the effects should have been felt, but in some respects they were not felt. But what is really important is to ensure that the people not just know, but feel the real effects of this.

Take relocation from dilapidated housing. We have accomplished innumerably more than we had anticipated. And people were definitely able to feel the effects. That is obvious. This is the first thing. A solution does not appear out of thin air, it has to be worked on and appropriate resources must be allocated, that will have to be redirected from resolving other tasks. Things will not appear out of the blue. We can say, ‘it should not be this way.’ Is that it? But who is going to do this? It is the people who do it. Or take the objective of raising life expectancy. It has increased already, and in the past year as well. That is the result of a lower mortality rate, which has gone down significantly. That is an actual fact. You understand, don’t you?

Andrei Vandenko: But the year ended with a population decline.

Vladimir Putin: Last year saw a population decline because…

Andrei Vandenko: And the rate was significant.

Vladimir Putin: 260,000. I know. I know nearly every figure.

Andrei Vandenko: I have no doubt.

Vladimir Putin: And you do not need to. Because I deal with this every day. It was clearly understood well in advance.

Look at our situation. The number of schoolchildren has grown, and it will continue to grow in the coming years. Why? Because a rather sizable generation reached their reproductive age several years ago, some 7–10 years ago. Yet, now the number of people that have entered into their childbearing years is far lower. That was a result of two plunges in the birthrate: one in 1943–1944 and the other in the mid-1990s. These two bottomed out, causing a depression. Therefore, we have fewer people in their childbearing years. The number of women aged 20 to 29 is down by 4.5 million. That is it. These are objective statistics.

Andrei Vandenko: I am not saying that we should not have the National Projects. I am talking about what could be. You have extensive experience. Take, for example, hosting the Sochi Olympics, the FIFA World Cup, or the APEC summit in Vladivostok. A specific target is set, a powerful shot follows and we score! Hurrah!

Vladimir Putin: I do not need any ‘hurrahs’. I want to see the country developing steadily, confidently, rhythmically and comprehensively.

What you have just said, yes, I certainly find it very pleasing. Not what you said, but when I see the outcome, I am pleased.

When I visit Vladivostok, during the drive from the airport, I glance back at the airport building first. How it was built is a different story. Then I look at the Federal University – a whole campus has been built there. It is always a pleasure to see. And look at how Sochi is developing. But these are singular results, while we need comprehensive achievements. Singular projects are not enough.

All the instruments that might have been used before, including state programs, no longer meet the objectives that we are faced with. I have already said this and would like to repeat: the difference between a National Project and a state program is that we identify specific tasks, for instance, demographic ones…

Andrei Vandenko: Seems so German.

Vladimir Putin: Yes, absolutely right – one, two, three… Yes, specific tasks. Secondly, we determine the amount of resources, the extra resources needed to fulfil these tasks. Thirdly, we appoint those responsible. We have never had this sort of targeting before.

There are certain problems arising from the fact that we have national targets and the National Projects as a means of achieving these goals. We might need to combine these elements. Some colleagues have been calling for this. All this is to be arranged and fine-tuned in the process of practical work. We cannot just wait and watch the water flow under the bridge.

Andrei Vandenko: What makes your National Projects different from Medvedev's?

Vladimir Putin: There were no Medvedev national projects, in the sense of the projects we are working on now.

Andrei Vandenko: In other words, back then it was just a campaign slogan.

Vladimir Putin: It was not a slogan; there were state programs back then. Let me point out the difference once again. A common problem was identified and then joint work was organized to tackle it. But it was unclear how to do it.

Now, as I have said, we have set the goals, for instance, demographically related ones: to reach certain thresholds on average life expectancy. To achieve these goals we allocate specific resources to fight cancer, to address cardio-vascular diseases, to improve traffic rules and to reduce road mortality rates, to build up the road network, and so on. Each issue implies personal responsibility. That is what the National Projects are all about. We have never used such tools before.

Andrei Vandenko: Are any of these National Projects under your constant control?

Vladimir Putin: All of them are.

Andrei Vandenko: All of them?

Vladimir Putin: Yes, of course.

Andrei Vandenko: In other words, in a way that…

Vladimir Putin: Yes, of course.

Andrei Vandenko: One of them that you would monitor all the time…

Vladimir Putin: Life expectancy is the main integrator.

Andrei Vandenko: I have noticed that you mentioned it three times.

Vladimir Putin: Well, it reflects all the other issues. The mortality rate should diminish and life expectancy should increase. By the way, we have certain achievements in addressing these issues – cardio-vascular diseases and tuberculosis, road accidents – the number of victims has abated, the number of fatalities, those killed in accidents, has significantly declined.

Andrei Vandenko: Yet, some skepticism remains regarding…

Vladimir Putin: Skepticism has always been there; it is here and will always be here. This is good.

Andrei Vandenko: Kudrin again said that these are not the ties that bond and are unlikely to become that.

Vladimir Putin: Skepticism always pushes forward those who must achieve concrete results.

Kudrin has been doing a good job, and when he was Minister of Finance, he advocated a strict macroeconomic policy and less spending. Now he believes that…

Andrei Vandenko: Are you being ironic?

Vladimir Putin: No, I am not. It has always been this way. I remember him well enough as Minister of Finance. He was against on every issue.

For instance, he strongly opposed building the ring road around St. Petersburg. He and Gref, the Minister of Economics and the Minister of Finance, visited me twice. They agreed to allocate funds to build the ring road around St. Petersburg only when I snapped at them. The same happened with many other projects. For instance, they were against building a bridge to Russky Island because it was too expensive. They were against certain infrastructure facilities in Sochi. “We do not need them. Too expensive,” they said. In the end, everything was built and it keeps on working and lives on, thank God.

In all cases, they kept saying that there were other more important objectives, that the macroeconomic situation must be taken care of, that the budget must not be thrown off balance. Now, he believes that we have enough resources, that we can ease our macroeconomic and fiscal policy a bit and revise the cutoff price applied to oil and gas revenues, while allocating more oil and gas income, roughly speaking, to consumption.

Andrei Vandenko: Well, the viewpoint has changed.

Vladimir Putin: The viewpoint has certainly changed, and apparently one can see better, because the viewer is no longer afraid of being socked in the eye.

Andrei Vandenko: Aha… Like that?

Vladimir Putin: Well, of course. He has no direct responsibility. And the people he worked with – his disciples to an extent – they feel somewhat perplexed.

February 25, 2020