Putin: ethnic issue, economy, doping, football, US and North Korea

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Yesterday Russian President Vladimir Putin's annual press conference was held at Moscow's World Trade Center Credit. It lasted 3 hours and 40 minutes this time, Vladimir Putin answered 73 questions.

First of all, he noted that there's no ethnic issues in Russia, and that its only one goal regarding language: to provide the same starting conditions for all children, no matter where they live in Russia. "We are talking about Tatarstan now, which I love and where I have many friends. But Tatars live not only in Tatarstan. About half of them live in other Russian regions. And all of them must have equal starting conditions. When people know their national language, which is very important, and I will talk about this later, but have a poor knowledge of the dominant spoken language, the Russian language, which is the tuition language at our universities, this is not good for the children who live in Tatarstan. This is how I see it. What we definitely must do is guarantee an opportunity to study the national language, not only the Tatar language, but also the Mari, Chechen, Yakut or any other language. Thankfully, we have a huge variety of national languages. They constitute our cultural and language diversity and are our pride and our wealth. We must certainly support this," he said.

As for the economic growth, the automotive industry, the chemical industry, the pharmaceutical sector and agriculture are posting very impressive growth rates. "We are now first in the world in terms of grain exports. This is a brilliant indicator. We are therefore posing growth. What is this growth based on? Firstly, it is based on the fact that we have overcome two shocks in mid-2014 and in 2015. What shocks am I talking about? This includes plunging fuel and energy prices. It is common knowledge that fuel and energy exports have been and largely remain our main source of budget revenue. On the second matter, there were external restrictions, the so-called sanctions."

"Economic development is increasingly being driven by domestic demand, which is extremely important for any economy. What else shows that not only have we overcome the recession, but we have also moved into the steady development phase? And I really mean steady development. Fixed investment is at 4.2 percent in Russia, while, as I said, GDP growth is at 1.6 percent. And fixed investment is 4.2 percent. What does this mean? This means that investment in development is growing at more than double the pace of the overall economy. This means that economic development is guaranteed in the short and even in the medium-term. Funds have already been invested in these projects," he noted.

"As of today, foreign direct investment has reached $23 billion since the beginning of the year, which is double 2016 and the best result over the last four years. We have record-low inflation in Russia’s recent history. As of today, the inflation rate is at 2.5 percent year-on-year. The budget deficit is as 2.2 percent. I think the final figure will actually be even lower," Putin stressed.

Speaking about the International Olympic Committee and the WADA, Putin said: "Both some of my colleagues and I have said this before, this whole scandal was whipped up in the run-up to Russian domestic political events. No matter what anybody says – I am sure that is the way it is. No matter what they say, I know that this is so. But at the same time, and we have said this before, as well – we have ourselves to blame; we gave them a reason for this to start, since there actually were recorded cases of using performance enhancing drugs. In other countries, however, there have been similar cases, except there was no such political frenzy. There is no doubt that this whole situation is politically motivated. There are other systemic issues in world sport. For example, some are permitted to take drugs for health reasons – the same drugs that are prohibited for other athletes – that were allegedly prescribed to them after surgery or due to medical conditions they have had since childhood. However, this is very odd, because this gives some athletes a competitive edge over others. But maybe these athletes that take drugs that others cannot should perform outside the competition or something like that, I don’t know. I do not want to offend anyone or hurt anyone’s feelings, because all athletes work hard, do their best and deserve respect. Nevertheless, there are rules in competition, and they must be respected, too. How are we going to manage our relations with the IOC and WADA? In a constructive way, I hope. We are going to continue working with them, to address the issues that we have, but, of course, defending the interests of our athletes at the same time, and in courts, too. I know that some international officials do not want this, but what can we do? We have to help our athletes defend their honour and dignity in the civil courts."

According to Putin, when it comes to competitions life the FIFA World Cup, Russia has "extensive experience in successfully hosting major international competitions. I will not quote examples to save time. The Confederations Cup was held at the highest level. It is very important for us that FIFA inspectors are monitoring the preparations. Everything is being done on schedule. I must admit for the sake of objectivity that of the 12 stadiums being built in 11 cities, including the two in Moscow, there is a two-month delay with the construction of one. But this will be fixed and I am sure everything will be done well and on time. I would like to emphasise that less than half of all the expenses come from the budget and more than half from private sources. Indicatively, government funds are being used in the same way as for preparations for the Olympics in Sochi: for building the infrastructure – roads, access ways, airports, railway stations and the like. I am sure everything will be done well and on time."

Speaking about the US and Donald Trump, he said: "We do see some major achievements, even over the short period he has been in office. Look at the markets, which have grown. This is evidence of investors’ trust in the US economy. This means they trust what President Trump is doing in this area. With all due respect to President Trump’s opposition in the United States, these are objective factors. There are also things he would probably like to do but has not been able to do so far, such as a healthcare reform and several other areas. By the way, he said his intentions in foreign policy included improving relations with Russia. It is clear that he has been unable to do this because of the obvious constraints, even if he wanted to. In fact, I do not know if he still wants to or has exhausted the desire to do this; you should ask him. I hope that he does and that we will eventually normalise our relations to the benefit of the American and Russian people, and that we will continue to develop and will overcome the common and well-known threats, such as terrorism, environmental problems, weapons of mass destruction, crises around the world, including in the Middle East, the North Korean problem, etc. There are many things we can do much more effectively together in the interests of our people than we are doing them now. Actually, we can do everything more effectively together."

"Regarding North Korea, our position is well known: we do not recognise North Korea’s nuclear status. We believe that everything taking place there is counterproductive. I have already said this, and I would like to tell you once again that in 2005 the concerned parties came to an agreement with North Korea that it would terminate its nuclear weapons programme. North Korea assumed certain obligations. Everyone agreed and signed these agreements. Only several months later, the United States decided that these agreements were not enough. The US side promptly froze the accounts of North Korean banks and said that North Korea had to do something else outside the framework of these agreements. But North Korea decided not to bother and withdrew from all those agreements, and started developing its nuclear programme once again. Why did you do that? Did you think this was not enough? Then why did you sign the agreements if you thought it was not enough? In reality, you provoked North Korea to withdraw. Later, the situation became aggravated even further with Libya and Iraq," he said.

"North Korea sees no other means of self-preservation but to develop weapons of mass destruction and missile technology. As you can see, their upgraded missiles are now capable of hitting the United States. Is there anything good in this situation? We believe that both sides need to stop ramping up tensions. At one point, we heard from our American partners that they would stop military exercises. Well, they have conducted another exercise, and the North Koreans have launched their missiles yet again. This spiral has to end because it is an extremely dangerous thing. We have talked with our American partners. Supposing that the United States launches some strikes with high-precision non-nuclear weapons, what targets will be attacked? Do the CIA or the Defence Intelligence Agency know exactly what targets, and where, must be hit with one single strike? Of course, they do not because North Korea is a walled-in country. You know some things, and you have no idea about others. And even one North Korean missile launch would have disastrous consequences. I repeat, the consequences would be disastrous. Yes, the United States has already used nuclear weapons against Japan. I do not believe it was justified. Now there is absolutely no need for this. It is important to be very careful. Mr Tillerson has recently said that the United States is prepared to establish direct contacts. This is a very good message showing that some changes are taking place among US leaders and at the Department of State, and that they are coming to recognise certain facts, hopefully together with the US intelligence community and the Pentagon. If we proceed on the basis of common sense, then we will, of course, cooperate with the United States on all such issues, including North Korea," Vladimir Putin concluded.