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Visit to Lebedinsky GOK

July 14, 2017, Gubkin

On the eve of Steelworker Day, Vladimir Putin visited the Lebedinsky GOK ore dressing plant that is celebrating its 50th anniversary, and watched the launch of the third sponge iron production shop.

The President visited the viewing platform of Lebedinsky GOK, learned about the production process and observed the launch of the new shop via video link in the presence of the heads of the plant and the region.

Lebedinsky GOK is Russia’s and the CIS’s largest enterprise for the extraction and enrichment of iron ore and the production of high-quality iron ore raw materials and metal resources.

The plant is the only producer of sponge iron in Russia and the CIS It is developing an iron ore deposit by open-pit mining. The deposit’s confirmed reserves amount to 3.9 billion tonnes.

The first shop for the production of sponge iron reached its design capacity in 2001. The second shop was launched in 2007. Construction and assembly work started in 2014 on the third shop with a capacity of up to 1.8 million tonnes a year.

Sponge iron is used in the production of steel. Its distinctive feature is a low content of harmful admixtures and stable homogeneity of the chemical composition.

The President also met with plant workers.

* * *

President of Russia Vladimir Putin: All I wanted to say is greetings on your double or rather a triple celebration.

The first is the launch of a new modern and very efficient facility. It expands the opportunities of your plant and consolidates its leading positions in the world market.

Secondly, I would like to congratulate you on the 50th anniversary of your plant. This is also a great holiday.

And, thirdly, I would like to congratulate you and all of your colleagues on the approaching holiday, Steelworker Day. I wish you all the best!

We could end our meeting at this point, but since we are having this meeting, I will be happy to talk to you and answer the questions that you are bound to have, if I can answer them, of course.

If not, I will ask for help from your Governor, the Minister [Minister of Industry and Trade Denis Manturov] and the director of your plant.

So, the more questions you address to them the better for all of us because they will do a more competent job. That said, I will also do my best.

Let us begin.

Angelina Morozova: Good afternoon, Mr President. My name is Angelina Morozova. I work in the administrative department of Lebedinsky GOK.

First, on behalf of our staff I would like to thank you for finding the time to come here for such a wonderful, triple celebration, as you said. For us it is a great honour and source of pride to welcome you here. I would like to use this amazing opportunity to get advice from the head of state himself. Here is my question:

What key qualities should a modern leader have in our age of rapid development of science, technology and IT?

Vladimir Putin: Decency. Everything else is built on that. But without it, if this basis does not exist, everything else is pointless.

Naturally, this is not enough. Professional qualities and up-to-date knowledge are also essential. So, second is the ability to constantly learn, to learn from those who are better than you in some respects, and there are many people like that.

Yevgeny Gerasimenko: Good afternoon, Mr President. I am Yevgeny Gerasimenko, chief engineer of the second ore-dressing shop at the plant.

This is my question. Many Western and other foreign automobile concerns have set up production in this country. Yet they are supplying their facilities with their own components and spare parts. I would like to know when we would have here at home not only assembly shops but also shops producing components and spare parts for these vehicles. We have a rich raw materials basis.

Vladimir Putin: Look, we launched a programme to develop the automobile industry in 2005. It was started by the predecessor of the current Minister, Viktor Khristenko, and his colleagues, of course. On the whole, this programme is doing well.

From the very start, we raised the issue of not just assembly, but significant localisation of production. It is clear what localisation is – production of the main components on our territory. And we had a complicated negotiating process with our partners. I was very actively involved in it at different stages. In general, we came to terms. This was one of the obstacles in the way of our accession to the WTO at the negotiations with the European Union.

Why? Because they insisted on us being simply an assembly line for foreign cars. Firstly, we argued that this was unacceptable for us because the training of our personnel and our economic capabilities were at a fairly high level.

Secondly, if we are talking about significant localisation – up to 50, 60 or 70 percent, our partners will be none the worse off. They will supply components anyway. In fact, this is what is happening.

I would like to draw your attention to the fact that we are also negotiating on the domestic manufacturing of components. While domestic manufacturing in the automobile industry amounted to about 55 percent in 2015, it reached an average of 60 percent in 2016. This is a very high level of localisation.

Auto parts are also manufactured by specialised companies throughout the world: by an Austrian-Canadian company, by Asian and American companies. There are not many of them, actually one could count them on the fingers of one hand. But even with them we negotiate localisation from the outset. And many of them agree and launch manufacturing on the territory of the Russian Federation.

We want domestic manufacturing of components to go from 30–35 to 45 percent on average, and even now, 35 to 75 percent of some components are manufactured domestically. We will keep moving in this direction. So we are on the same side.

The process is complicated because partners always prefer to manufacture at home and then send it somewhere else for assembly. But Russia is a different country, we have a different competence level. And the experience of the past years proves that what we did was right. Nobody is losing out.

But I understand what you are saying. For metalworkers this is indeed a very significant factor – supporting the market. I may be wrong, but I believe about 23 percent of metal production goes to the automobile industry. So it is a big factor.

Viktor Rasskazov: Good afternoon, Mr President. Viktor Rasskazov, head of the production and analytical department, Lebedinsky GOK

As you have already mentioned, in accordance with the 10-year programme for developing and revamping our production facilities, we introduced another HBI module, which made us the world’s largest HBI producer. However, the Government, as we can see, is gradually switching to three-year planning.

Last year, a seven-year plan until 2025 was outlined. However, for us, three or seven years is not a very long horizon. How do you see the prospects for our industry and other branches of the national economy over a longer period, say 20 to 30 years?

Vladimir Putin: You know, we are trying to think in terms of 20 to 30 years, but it is quite difficult given the large number of unpredictable circumstances that are beyond our control. For example, the metallurgical industry was overdeveloped internationally. The rapid development of metallurgical enterprises, say, in China, has led to obvious results. The peak of consumption in our country was in 2015, and then fell a little.

Still I believe that we will retain the need… I am referring to our long-term economic development plans, where our consumption will still be at a level of, maybe, 2015, at about 2.5 million tonnes. This is enough to make production plans for a fairly long period.

Planning for 20 to 30 years is probably a more challenging task. Currently, we are trying to create a strategy for the development of the Russian economy to 2025 or 2030. A planning horizon like that is quite feasible.

This is true of the civilian and the defence industries. Therefore, I believe that this volume of 2.5 million tonnes will remain unchanged over the next few years, which is more than in 2014, 2013, or 2012. This is a fairly large amount which guarantees the stable operation of the industry.

Elina Mishustina: Good afternoon, Mr President! My name is Elina Mishustina, and I am the head of LebGOK-Zdorovye, a Lebedinsky GOK subsidiary.

Like many healthcare administrators, I am delighted with the current positive trends in medicine. The reform being carried out in healthcare has made it possible to build new up-to-date medical centres providing specialised aid, to supply cutting edge equipment to many medical institutions, including in small towns around the Russian Federation, and to improve the quality of medical services. Nevertheless, the personnel issue in healthcare remains an urgent one, especially here, on the periphery.

Vladimir Putin: You have a very good, reliable periphery here.

Elina Mishustina: Reliable, yes. Nevertheless all those support and recruitment programmes for young employees implemented at the regional level have produced meagre results. In the past, in the education system, students of medical universities were provided with jobs, particularly in small towns and rural areas.

Could you tell me please if there are perhaps any solutions in the works at the federal level, such as making it obligatory for students to take on an assigned job for a number of years after graduating from medical universities?

Vladimir Putin: Such administrative methods as job placement at certain medical institutions following graduation from university are still being discussed. No final decisions have been made yet, but the discussions are ongoing.

There is something that can already be used. What is that? Certain companies and institutions could act as sponsors for students who are then trained specifically for employment at those organisations. The number of such students is growing. Therefore, a certain number of positions can be reserved at universities for municipalities, regions or even large industrial enterprises, which then employ those graduates, students and specialists trained for them.

This would mean that those graduates have an obligation to work for a certain amount of time at the companies that have funded their education. Such a possibility already exists.

As for what is happening in the regions, there has been some progress but there is still a lot that needs to be done. We cannot say that all issues have been resolved. That would not be true. However, you have probably heard of the Country Doctor programme that has been implemented since 2012.

We conceived this programme in 2012, right after a meeting with the medical community. This programme has been developing quite well. I can inform those who are not familiar with the programme: young doctors get a one-off payment of one million rubles if they come to work in rural areas or small towns, or urban-type settlements. And the number of medical personnel, the number of specialists in such towns has greatly increased thanks to the inflow of specialists under the age of 36. However, that is definitely not enough.

I am sure you have enough issues here, but the practice your Governor has developed and applied is good. He told me today how everything is divided into medical districts, and specialists are assigned to specific districts. That makes around 1,500 people in each district, am I right?

A family physician is assigned to each district. This doctor working with each of these 1,500 patients is able, first of all, to monitor the health of each person. Secondly, he or she can refer patients to specialists whenever necessary. This is very good practice. Mr Savchenko, you should consider speaking to our colleagues at a State Council presidium meeting . Just tell them how this is works.

Moreover, you have your own university here. Municipalities and regions have the opportunity to sponsor students at relevant higher education institutions, including federal universities and Healthcare Ministry universities. I cannot remember now, but several dozen places at Healthcare Ministry universities are reserved for Belgorod Region – around 40, I believe.

Gennady Polyakov: Good afternoon, Mr President. My name is Gennady Polyakov, and I work at the Oskol Electrometallurgical Plant (OEMK).

You met with Donald Trump recently. It would be interesting to hear your impression of him as a person.

Vladimir Putin: I would tell you more if there were no journalists here. (Laughter) But since we are not alone here…

You know, what I can say for sure (I think I already said that at a news conference in Germany), is that he is quite an open person and he is very different from the TV image that he created during the election campaign. However, there is nothing unusual here, since the election campaign is not something you judge a person by. An election campaign requires a special mind-set and behaviour.

What I also noticed and could share with you – this is no secret, and it surprised me a little, I did not expect this and I believe it is very important for a person who has a public profile, a politician – he has the ability to listen. At least, this is what our conversation was like.

I do not know what he is like with the other people he talks to, but during our conversation I listened to him with attention as well, when he set out his ideas and proposals on developing cooperation, and he did the same. You know, this is something that does not happen all the time. For a person who works with people, who is involved in in politics, I reiterate, this is a vitally important ability – to be able to listen and to respond and communicate promptly.

You have substantial experience, I believe. There are some people who only hear themselves, whatever you tell them – it is like a buzz in the background for them… You are talking to them, but they are not listening at all.

The current US President is different: he responds to what his interlocutor says, to the arguments, and responds to them. Even if he does not like something or does not agree with something, he asks questions and responds to arguments. This is very important. I believe this is a positive quality.

And if this dialogue between us continues in this way on the interpersonal level, as you said, there is reason to hope that our communication will further develop.

Andrei Gerasimov: Good afternoon, Mr President. I am Andrei Gerasimov, head of the HR Management Division.

We all see the rapidly developing progress. We file reports electronically, and there is a state services portal. In the past, when a person retired, he or she had to submit a work book to the authorities as a document confirming their employment history; now the Pension Fund has all the information it requires. Next year the work book will be celebrating its 100th anniversary, so maybe it is time to pension it off as well?

Vladimir Putin: This is an area that requires special attention and it is very important for people to understand what is going on. Most people are used to work books; they are used to having documents in paper form. And no matter how fast technologies develop, and they need to develop fast, it is important to help people adapt to these technologies. If we see and realise that many people are struggling with this for a variety of reasons, such as different experience, education and so forth, it is the government’s duty to ensure access for each individual to the base that is vitally, critically important for him or her. Pensions are one of such areas.

Of course, we will need to gradually transition to electronic documents. You may know that the Electronic Government programme has been under development for a long time, but it has yet to be finalised. Almost every agency will have its own databases, and we will need to put it all together, integrate them and move forward.

I would like say that we have a national personality trait: we always compare Russian products with those manufactured abroad and we always draw conclusions that are not in our favour. However, there are areas where we are definitely moving forward even faster than many of our partners. The volume of electronic services provided in Russia to the public is much higher than in many countries. We are definitely at the same level as developed economies, and in some fields, we are ahead of them.

Naturally, everything is linked to the metallurgical industry, including space. For example, several years ago we launched the GLONASS programme, this is a global navigation system, and we started it together with some partners from other countries, including the European Union. Today it is operating in Russia, but not in the EU, they have not set it up yet. And these are the most advanced technologies, the most up-to-date and the most promising ones. The same can be said of electronic government.

We are definitely in the forefront in this field. But we must not stop. Once we stop – that is it, it would mean that we start falling behind. We must treat this area with great attention. We will be gradually moving towards electronic documents, including where it comes to pensions.

It is vitally important that nothing gets lost or deleted in this area. This is crucial. There are big advantages of electronic documents with regard to this system.

Vadim Yurygin: Good afternoon again, Mr Presdient. My name is Vadim Yurygin, and I am head of the technical department of the mine administration.

We know that a programme for relocating residents of dilapidated housing is underway in our country. We have had many old buildings demolished in the city with new good houses built instead. But as far as I know, the programme is approaching its end. Are there plans to extend the programme or to launch a new one in the same sector?

Vladimir Putin: We have extended it. The state has allocated 300 billion rubles for relocation of old housing residents in the past years. I have said a number of times and I can reiterate that the programme began, unfortunately, with a scandalous situation connected with an infamous oil company.

When the company was found guilty of tax evasion, the budget received new funds and we started this relocation programme. Let me repeat, the state has already allocated additional 300 billion for this purpose. It is done on a co-financing basis.

Here in Belgorod Region, it has been practically completed, almost 100 percent complete. What is the number, Mr Savchenko? Over 90 percent?

Belgorod Region Governor Yevgeny Savchenko: That is right, Mr President, we will complete the programme on September 1. However, earlier we raised the issue of extending the programme for housing that was classified as dilapidated after 2012.

Vladimir Putin: I take it you are working in tandem. Now it is clear.

We have extended the programme for one more year. There are indeed some restrictions the Governor mentioned, which have to do with the cut-off date. We have a lot of dilapidated housing, unfortunately, 2.4 percent of hazardous and dilapidated housing. Actually, it is not quite clear what dilapidated means; the definition has not been clearly established. But the volume of dilapidated housing exceeds that of hazardous housing threefold, amounting to 66 million, whereas hazardous housing amounts to about 22 million square metres. For that reason, we should first solve the problem with hazardous housing. Why? Because hazardous means unfit for living under law. One just cannot live there, it is dangerous. This is why we will act first by solving the issue of resettling residents of hazardous housing.

I very much hope that all the regular maintenance and major repairs will be conducted in a timely manner, both in Belgorod Region and in other regions of the Russian Federation, so that the number of dilapidated and hazardous houses does not increase.

Otherwise, the heads of the Russian regions will keep on raising the issue that we need to extend it again, and again, and again. It will be done by those who do not conduct major repairs and regular maintenance.

We had numerous working discussions of the issue. But one thing is absolutely clear – we should take people out of barracks and living conditions unworthy for people. We will keep doing that.

Yevgeny Zaidulin: Good afternoon, Mr President. My name is Yevgeny Zaidulin. At present IT technologies are booming, different work processes are automated in our company, and I myself take some part in that. A question follows: will machines replace humans in the future? And what is to be done next?

Vladimir Putin: They are already replacing them…

You see, it has always been like that. Let us recall the work-to-rule strikes, which were invented, I think, in the UK during the technological revolution. They did everything according to rules, and labour productivity plummeted immediately.

There were different movements that fought against the introduction of machinery that was modern at the time because when workers were removed, people remained in the street without jobs. Since we know about it, and we know the entire history of humankind, not just of our country, all we have to do is think it through beforehand.

We must be aware from the onset about how, where, when and according to which rules we will do retraining and what funds will be spent on this. We have been talking about that for a few years already.

You may remember that we spoke about the need to create 25 million new jobs. It had to do with the awareness that as new technologies are introduced, hands will be released. But if we do not think beforehand about where and how people will be working, then we are going to have problems.

Meanwhile, if we think about it beforehand, develop programmes and introduce them systematically, not by fits and starts, then people will be gaining much more from that than they have now, and the country will be developing faster. It is impossible to move forward without this.

Technologies will be introduced anyway, you cannot escape it. We will have to do that; we will be forced to do it. However, we have to consider right now, how social issues will be resolved. We are drafting certain programmes, including development programmes, development strategies for the coming 10 to 15 years. This is one of the key tasks of all the development strategies proposed by different groups, strategies proposed for implementation after 2018.

Vladimir Kovtun: Good afternoon, Mr President. My name is Vladimir Kovtun. I come from Donbass, and so I cannot avoid the topic of Ukraine, my heart is bleeding as the situation there is getting worse. How long will it last, and what is your vision of a settlement to the situation?

Vladimir Putin: You know, this is a rhetorical question, of course, about how long it will last. Our people are very patient. When I say “our” I mean both Russia and Ukraine.

You know my position; I spoke about it a number of times. I believe that we are one nation with practically no differences. There are some cultural differences, and the linguistic colouring is a little different. As for me, for instance, the identity of the Ukrainian people’s culture is worth a lot. It is a very rich culture. But in essence, on the whole, we are one people, and a very patient one.

I cannot say how long this situation will go on in Ukraine, bit it is definitely deteriorating. You know that. The country’s GDP compared to what it was, say, under President Yanukovych, has fallen by over a third in the past years. Peoples’ incomes plunged while costs rose. How much lower are incomes in Kharkov compared to Belgorod Region, for example?

Yevgeny Savchenko: Two times lower.

Vladimir Putin: Kharkov is a rich city. Most of the country’s wealth nowadays is generated in large cities all over the world. And Kharkov is a very large industrial and research centre, but you see that the situation there is much worse than in Belgorod. Even though during the Soviet times Belgorod used to be a much more modest city and region. Meanwhile, you see that the development here is very significant, very noticeable.

How long will all that last there? I do not know. It depends on the people living there, on how long they will tolerate it. But I really hope that it will be over one day, and this time, with God’s help, it will be over without blood in the course of democratic processes and the restoration of our natural ties.

After our economic ties with Ukraine were severed, it was Ukraine that suffered most. I have already given some examples, say, with aircraft engines, helicopter engines. I would like to remind you that all Russian helicopters, absolutely all of them, both military and civilian ones, were equipped with Ukrainian-made engines manufactured by Motor Sich.

They stopped delivering engines to us; they thought we would be in trouble. We have already launched two plants in St Petersburg, all complete, using a new technological basis, a modern one. Where are they going to sell their goods? I do not know. Who wants engines for the Mi helicopters? Nobody does.

The same goes for engines for the Navy. Cooperation within the USSR was arranged in such a way that the former RSFR did not manufacture any marine engines – we just did not produce them. It was not only a special kind of manufacturing, but a special branch of science, knowledge and production, and Russia did not have it. This equipment was delivered to us by Zorya-Mashproekt, a plant outside Nikolayev.

Well, they stopped deliveries. We had certain difficulties, and many of my colleagues wanted to purchase engines in other countries, including for the state defence procurement order, and there was such a possibility.

I can tell you that I made a different decision, I said, let us not hurry. We will delay the Navy re-equipment. That is, we will take longer to do it, but will make our own engines. You may have noticed that a new branch of science and a new industry appeared in Russia: we made this engine, and the whole production chain as well. Both for small vessels and for large ships, all that has appeared in Russia, a new engine has appeared. Now the equipment of ships with engines will begin. Actually, we have even acquired a new competence.

Are you from Donetsk?

Vladimir Kovtun: From Gorlovka.

Vladimir Putin: You know that a great many boys and girls, men and women from large Ukrainian enterprises have moved to Russia. They are very good top-level specialists, the world level actually, they are working with us, and God give them good health.

Yet we would like to restore cooperation as a whole, not everything has been lost there. It would certainly benefit both the Ukrainian economy and the Russian economy since after the signing of the notorious association agreement Ukraine’s trade volumes fell, both trade with Russia and the European Union.

There are practically no efficiently operating industries left except agriculture. However, if they start selling Ukrainian black soil, and will allow GMO products, if they contaminate (there is such a term) Ukrainian black soil, do you understand? Then they will no longer have it either. That is why the sooner we restore normal relations, industrial and economic ties, the better it will be for both Russia and Ukraine.

Denis Azinov: Mr President, good afternoon. I am Denis Azinov, Oskol Electrometallurgical Plant.

Mr President, Russia is one of the world’s leading oil producers. But in the past years there has been a tendency for the world oil prices to fall whereas petrol prices in Russia are still going up. Why is this happening and what can be done about it?

Vladimir Putin: This has to do with a number of factors. The price is determined, among other things, by external markets. As we have a free market, we cannot keep our prices lower than those in neighbouring countries. Otherwise, we will have to set up a new iron curtain.

Petrol is cheaper than in many neighbouring countries anyway, and it is carried across the borders, there is a real flow of petrol running there. This is the reason why we have to keep prices at a certain level if we do not want it all carried away.

This problem is solved in a different way, not by suppressing fuel prices but rather by raising people’s living standards and incomes. This is the way to go. In some countries, let us say, in gas producing countries, they keep gas prices very low. But this is a totally upside-down economy.

They have long been aware that they should act in a different way, yet they cannot make this step to balance the economy because it entails a whole chain of consequences including social ones.

That is why we should never let producers, traders and middlemen raise the prices too much; it is quite obvious that the prices should be economically logical. But it is ultimately not economically sound and even hazardous to keep them at an artificially low level.

However, we still try to keep those prices lower for certain consumers at certain periods of time, such as agricultural producers during the sowing and harvesting seasons. Here the Government works out a number of support mechanisms, agreements with producers, middlemen, and sellers, and we manage to do it overall. This is how we will gradually be able to meet both the demands of consumers and the interests of producers.

Yekaterina Rogova: Catering company, occupational safety engineer Yekaterina Rogova.

Good afternoon, Mr President. Recently the documentary Putin was released. The film is full of private emotional moments where you speak about your grandchildren, and moments in the church. Or consider the episode where you…

Vladimir Putin: Do you mean the American film?

Yekaterina Rogova Yes. Even if we consider the episode where you give the horse a carrot, on cannot but feel sentimental, it is great.

This immediately brings about a question. I would like to ask about your first-hand impressions, your emotions from participating in that project. And Mr President, will there be a follow-up, like with The Three Musketeers: Twenty Years Later? (Laughter)

Vladimir Putin: Where is the culprit mister-comrade-master Peskov? Must have dashed out, he is not here. But it was he who talked me into it. And my first reaction was, why? who needs it? Everybody knows everything anyway; I do not even know what I am going to say. But he said, “Nevertheless, there is this director, he is very famous, he even got an Oscar, he is a talented person, and he will tell this story to the Americans, a broad US audience. Because, ultimately, this will not be so much about you as about the country.

And it is important that an American viewer should learn about Russia as much as possible and from you directly. I had a second question to ask, how objectively was he going to convey what I will be telling him, will he cut things out or comment or distort. He said, “I cannot guarantee it, but he is basically a very decent person, a good journalist.” And so I agreed.

You know, I did not view it as a project. You said ‘project’. I want to make it clear how it was done. So, the Executive Office staff, in particular, my press secretary, would come up to me and say, “The team is coming tomorrow, we found several minutes, an hour to meet them.” And I would say all right.

I would occasionally forget that they were supposed to come. They would tell me “They are waiting.” I would come out to them and begin speaking. Then I would leave and immediately forget about them. So it is not the way they usually make a film, with a set, the other things, questions. In addition, the director was the kind of person who does not prepare you for anything, he just comes and asks his questions.

I should give him credit, though; from what I saw…I did not see the complete film. I am going to reveal a secret to you: I watched this film on my way home from a trip abroad, aboard an airplane. But as I had not got enough sleep there, I fell asleep on the plane as I was watching, so I did not see it to the end. But I will definitely watch it. Actually, judging by reviews, everything is fairly objective there, and no sequel is being considered.

Ivan Lapchenko: Good afternoon, Mr President! My name is Ivan Lapchenko, [I work at] an HBI (hot-briquetted iron) plant. I would like to use this occasion to ask you two questions. They might not let me do it later.

Vladimir Putin: Who?

Ivan Lapchenko: They will take the microphone and will not let me ask.

First questions. There are a lot of historians and non-historians who mangle our history, and apply lots of pressure. A lot of versions. And I would like to know whether the state will fight for our history until the end? Maybe it is worth thinking up some special measures, tools? Can we be sure than next generations will know the truth about war, about Victory, about everything?

And the second question. Setting aside all distractions, and without going into any details, do we have any confidence in tomorrow? That’s it. Thank you.

Vladimir Putin: The second part: is it a question or a statement? (Laughter.) Do you have confidence in tomorrow, I mean you?

No. Seriously, jokes aside, I want to know your feelings. Now you know that I am not kidding, I am asking you seriously, about your inner feelings – are you confident, is there any hope inside?

Ivan Lapchenko: There is, because everything I do today is for a bright tomorrow.

Vladimir Putin: And the more people we have like you who are doing something, who are involved in specific production, who work with their hands and heads, who talk like you, the more confidence we will have that Russia’s victory is inevitable. (Applause.)

As for various perversions of our history. You know that it has almost always been like that over the course of our history. Why? Because as Alexander III said once, everyone is afraid of our hugeness, because there are only two allies – our army and navy. But this method of challenging Russia has always been used.

Take for example the famous legend that Ivan the Terrible killed his son. It remains unknown in fact whether he really killed his son or not. Many researchers believe that he did not kill anyone at all and that the Pope’s nuncio made it up when he visited Russia for talks with Ivan IV and tried to turn the Orthodox Rus into a Catholic Rus.

And when Ivan IV refused different legends and so forth emerged. He was made Ivan the Terrible, an extremely violent individual. Although, if one examines other countries in this period of time, everything was the same everywhere. It was quite a violent time. I do not want to say that Ivan the Terrible was an angel, he must have been a very tough individual.

But I am talking about something else, about what you said, about the fact that this is a method of fighting our country, this is a competitive struggle that is always ongoing in the world, constantly. And as soon as any rival emerges, all other participants in the process start thinking: no, wait, we have to hold him back. Well, it has always been like this.

We spoke about your metallurgical industry. Since 2000, Russia has invested four trillion rubles in the development of a metallurgical industry. We have ferrous, nonferrous metallurgy. When I came there the first time I thought I was standing in a hospital room. Now that’s high technology.

As soon as the other manufactures saw direct competition, 17 so-called antidumping investigations, and eventually a total of 30, were opened. And what is this? It is a tool to fight you. A tool of fighting you by whom? Your rivals. And the same things are happening in the world, in the global arena.

Russia is becoming more stable, getting stronger – see, getting too strong in fact, we need to put some pressure on it. All kinds of insinuations start emerging, including different perversions of history. If we have always been that bad in their eyes, then what is there to talk about with such people?

And this tool will continue to be used. One cannot neglect this fact. One must not lose his head over this. It just needs to be treated as part of the job. We need to be exact and persistent in clearly demonstrating our own position.

If we do this, if we pay the necessary attention to this, then all attempts to either pervert something or use it against us will be doomed from the start. There are some absolutely obvious things. We just need to talk about them.

Ask the Japanese who dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki? Practically every third person will say that is was the Soviet Union. This is nonsense! But it is so! Ask who made the greatest contribution in the victory over Nazism. Westerners will definitely say: the United State or the United Kingdom.

Around 350,000 people died in the United Kingdom during the Second World War. During the First World War about 1.2 million people died, I believe. And in the Second World War −350,000−400,000. Americans sustained bigger casualties, 550,000 people died, I believe. Russia lost 27 million people! Wehrmacht’s main forces was concentrated in our country.

The Prokhorovskoye field is not far from here. We all know what Prokhorovka is but few people in the world have heard about this. We need to speak out, speak out and not be shy. And not for, I would like to beg your pardon for my mauvais ton − this should not be said in front of cameras, not for thumping our chest about how great we are, no.

But just to show the real role of our country in the global processes, show that we are not going to argue, quarrel, wage war against anyone; we are proceeding from the fact that we will also be taken seriously, our lawful interests taken into account and our lawful rights respected.

The biggest country in the world, in terms of area. Not as densely populated as India or China with 1.5 billion people, but 146 million is still a good number for a population. You understand we simply cannot allow our interests not to be taken into account. We are going to defend them but with lawful, civilised ways and methods. And for this, of course, we need to provide the world with information about us, including about the country’s history, impartially, you are right.

Dmitry Koronov: Good evening, Mr President! Dmitry Koronov, shop floor manager, enrichment factory, Lebedinsky GOK.

People say that dreams come true. But I could never have imagined that I would be having a conversation with you right now. I always believed in a democratic Russia and now my words, my conversation with you is an amazing testament to this – including the freedom of speech; I did not prepare a speech, I did not prepare a single question.

I learnt that I would be here and the Metalloinvest Director General told us, gathered us here in advance, said that we can ask any questions on any topics, there are absolutely no restrictions at all. By taking the occasion, I would prefer not to just to say empty words, but words coming from my heart and soul. I would simply like to thank you.

Luckily, Yevgeny Savchenko, Oleg Mikhailov [Lebedinsky GOK managing director], are gathered here. I would like to thank Mr Savchenko. I am a native of the Belgorod Region, city of Gubkin, born and raised here. I would like to thank him that over the course of time, over the course of my growth, every year some kind of project is carried out. To clean our courtyards, improve the landscaping of our territories, repair kindergartens and schools, sport complexes. All of this has been done and you are aware of it.

But I would like whole of Russia to know it. I would like to thank Mr Mikhailov not just for the fact that favorable conditions were created for workers of our industry, metallurgists. In the Soviet era there were rooms for releasing emotions, so to speak, red corners and so forth. Now, in the Lebedinsky GOK, in the enrichment factory, a church-chapel in honor of the Holy Great Martyr Barbara has been built. She is the patroness of mine workers. I work there and I try to visit the chapel during each shift, on my routine breaks.

I like being there, and I am not the only one, and to speak with God once again, I am an Orthodox Christian. And I would like to thank Mr Mikhailov for this. For the fact that there is not only production works, processing of iron ore here, but for giving workers a chance to emotionally unload and relax, to get our minds off our hard work, because it is hard indeed.

And I would like to ask you a question. Your attitude toward this and the attitude of other top managers of organisations and enterprises. Can they accept this idea, I don’t know, maybe someone has somewhere… Or interpret it as a request – to create or restore some small sacred places in their enterprises. What do you think about this?

Vladimir Putin: First, you helped me out a bit, freeing me of the necessity to praise your officials.. I present them with awards sometimes, but my function is more varied. But I have to say that Mr Savchenko is considered among the most experienced and successful regional governors. That’s true. But there surely are issues and problems; you cannot imagine life without some kind of problems. He and I will talk about it today.

To formulate your problem more comprehensively: the social burden on the economy and business. This obligation to be socially responsible was absolutely obligatory back in the Soviet era. Every large enterprise provided financial support to hospitals, school and universities; universities are quite a different matter, they educate the workforce of the future.

And it is just impossible to cut all at once what sometimes took place in the 1990s, when enterprises would just shut down, and also in the early 2000s, and it is also tough, risky and unjust. And it is just wrong. In this regard, of course, large enterprises bear their social responsibilities one way or another; they provide financial support to sports clubs and so on. Overall, this is good.

Yet the general way to develop is to increase wages and give people the opportunity to spend their money and choose what they want to do with it – say, to not go to an enterprise-sponsored health resort but rather to one of their choosing; or to receive treatment not in their neighborhood outpatient clinic but where better medical services and treatment are provided. This is generally the right way.

The social burden on the enterprise should be reduced, with the opportunity to increase wages and give people the right to receive services where they want to or where they think they have a better choice. But to fully shut down this social component of large enterprises is impossible and there is no need, I think.

As for the spiritual side of things – churches, mosques, synagogues and Buddhist temples − they do not cost the heads of enterprises and shareholders much, but they can give a lot in terms of the state of mind of the people working at a certain enterprise or who reside in a certain territory.

You have a good example here – Prokhorovskoye Pole, which Mr Savchenko and I have mentioned today, there is a church and a synagogue. And we have just agreed on… Or you have it already?

 Yevgeny Savchenko: A place of worship for Muslims.

Vladimir Putin: Yes, a place of worship for Muslims. This is a site where people from many regions of the former Soviet Union lost their lives, and their relatives arrive here to commemorate the memory of their heroic ancestors. And, of course, it is very good that such a tradition was established here in your Belgorod Region. I expect very much that this practice will spread to and develop in other regions of Russia as well.

Natalya Cherkashchenko: I am Natalya Cherkashchenko, Chief Ecologist at the Lebedinsky GOK ore dressing plant.

It is always a pleasure seeing you effortlessly giving exact answers to journalists’ questions, which are not always well-intended and are at times even provocative.

Vladimir Putin: Always provocative.

Natalya Cherkashchenko: Always, true. A film has been already mentioned here made by a US journalist, and your interview with a female US journalist has caused large public resonance.

My question is: with whom do you take more pleasure in speaking with – men or…

Vladimir Putin: With women of course..

Natalya Cherkashchenko: I am asking about journalists.

Vladimir Putin: You know, I am being totally frank about this, I am not putting on a show, but it is always easier for me to communicate with people who have both feet on the ground, with workers in a broad sense of this word, those who work with their hands or use their heads. I feel myself to be a natural part of such groups.

Second, this is always useful. You always get a feeling of how people are living their lives, what drives them and what problems they face – this is important for my work. And I say this with complete honesty. And it’s interesting; I mean, this is a real life.

The rest is a kind of playing ping-pong, like some kind of sport. This is more in the realm of propaganda, but this is not what life is about. Life is what you are involved in and what you are working on. This is our life, our country, our people; this is the most important and interesting aspect. What can be more interesting than Russia? Nothing. (Applause.)

Daniil Lysykh: Good afternoon, Mr President. I am Daniil Lysykh, and I am an electrician at the Lebedinsky GOK.

We have many local residents who have found great success in sports. For instance, Denis Lebedev recently successfully defended his WBA title. Everyone knows that you are fond of boxing and Sambo. Do you have any other hobbies?

Vladimir Putin: You mean, hobbies involving sport?

Daniil Lysykh: In general.

Vladimir Putin: Well, everyone knows what my sports hobbies are, at least I think they do, but I can tell them again. Sambo is where it all began, and then I switched to judo. These are my main sports hobbies. Later I learned how to ski. In the past few years, I have tried my hand at playing hockey. Just like any game, hockey is exhilarating and never boring.

I like music very much. In my free time and whenever I get the chance I gladly listen to music. I have friends who are good musicians, and I love listening to interesting and good recordings. That is pretty much it.

I would like to once again congratulate you on all three of your holidays and wish you all the best. I wish you great success and that you have a very festive time. I also wish you all the best in your personal lives, with your families, that they remain healthy and happy.

Thank you very much.

July 14, 2017, Gubkin