December 20, Russian President Putin started his 14th, large press conference. Interestingly, on December 20 Russia marks the Day of the Security Officer, which has been commonly known in Russia as the “Chekist Day” (‘Chekist’ is a Russian colloquialism for ‘KGB officer’). After the press conference, Putin will attend a gala evening dedicated to this date.
A record number of journalists – more than 1,700 people – were accredited for the press conference. Traditionally, Putin started the press conference with a brief report about the economic situation in Russia. The president said that Russia’s GDP grew by 1.7 percent over the year. The real level of wages was growing, while the inflation rate remained on an acceptable level. As of 2018, it will exceed the target level of 4 percent and will make up 4.1-4.2 percent.
The unemployment level in the country decreased to 4.8 percent having thus set an all-time low, Putin said. Life expectancy in the Russian Federation in 2018 increased to 72.9 years compared to 72.7 years last year. The budget surplus of the Russian Federation in 2018 will make up 2.1 percent of GDP. Putin stressed that Russia needs a breakthrough, a leap into the new technological order. This requires resources, which the government and the administration are looking for.
Answering a question of whether the Russian economy is stagnating, Putin said that the government did not rely on “mechanical” calculations in its forecasts. The government plans a growth of three percent by 2021. Fluctuations are possible, but it is important to enter another league of economies, Putin said, adding that Russia’s goal is to become the fifth economy in the world.
Speaking about the work of the Russian government, Putin said that he was “generally pleased” with the work that the Russian government conducts under the chairmanship of Dmitry Medvedev. According to the head of state, the budget surplus of 2.1 percent of GDP is a good indicator of the work of the government.
Answering the question of whether the fiscal burden on Russian people was too high and how it could be related to the policy of the government that raises VAT, housing and utility tariffs for people and imposes a tax on self-employed individuals, Putin said that in many countries VAT makes up 20% (Russia is raising VAT from 18 to 20 percent from January 1, 2019).
Putin said that the change in the VAT rate was necessary to reduce oil and gas budget deficit. He said that during the recent economic crises, Russia was forced to spend petrodollars, which led to an increase in the oil and gas deficit. It became possible to reduce it to 6.6 percent.
Answering a question about fears of a new global military conflict, a global nuclear disaster and a world war, Putin noted that the world was underestimating the danger of a nuclear war during the recent years. The danger of such a scenario in the world is being obscured, which may lead to the death of human civilisation and even the whole planet, President Putin said. In the West, there is an idea of using low yield nuclear weapons, but the use of such weapons can lead to a global catastrophe, the Russian leader stressed.
Answering a question about unnecessary conflicts between authorities and representatives of the younger generation, about dispersing rap concerts, banning young people from participating in rallies, Putin said that young people make the foundation of today’s and future Russia.
Yet, there are different kinds of young people, he said. He referred to the story of young paratroopers, who were fighting to death with hordes of terrorists. “Out of several dozen, only six of them remained, and they were fighting against two thousand militants,” said Putin making a reference to the feat of 90 paratroopers from Pskov, who engaged in a battle with 2,500 Chechen terrorists near the village of Ulus-Kert in 2000.
In addition to young military men, there are a lot of young volunteers and people who are engaged in search and rescue activities. “Those people make the stronghold of today and the future of Russia,” Putin said, adding that “there are also talented musicians.”
He then condemned the drug propaganda in rap songs. “Do we want to degrade? In no way this should be encouraged. At the same time, one should counteract differently here,” he said. Therefore, the Russian president considers the arrests of rap singers and the abortion of their concerts unnecessary, since such conflicts are counterproductive. “Yet, there is nothing good in the fact that they use foul language in their songs – but let them sing so,” Putin noted. “Art does not exist to indulge sordid values,” he added.
Speaking about the state of affairs in Ukraine, attempts to solve political problems of the Donbass by force are doomed to failure, Vladimir Putin said when answering a question from a correspondent of Ukrainian news agency UNIAN, who asked the Russian president how much money Russia spends on the Donbass, whose people Russia treats like slaves.
“Attempts to solve political issues with the help of force, and we can see that this is exactly what the Ukrainian authorities have been doing for several years, are doomed to failure. It must be understood,” Putin said. Putin also said that Russian-Ukrainian relations are not going to go back to normal until there were Russophobes in power in Ukraine.
“As long as there are Russophobes in power in Kiev, who do not understand what the interests of their own people are, an abnormal situation like this will continue regardless of who is in power in the Kremlin,” Putin said. At the same time, Russia is interested in peace and prosperity in Ukraine, as Ukraine remains one of the largest economic partners of the Russian Federation. The trade turnover between Russia and Ukraine has increased compared to 2017.
“This is not strange, because it is a natural connection, and these natural connections will someday make their presence felt,” he added. Russia will continue providing humanitarian and other assistance to people living in the Donbass. “We really provide humanitarian, other type of assistance and support to people who live in this territory. We are doing it so that they do not get crushed, torn and eaten there. And we will do it further,” said the head of state.
It was not Russia, but the Ukrainian authorities that set up the blockade between the Donbass and the rest of Ukraine. “It is them, who shell the people, whom they consider their own citizens. Every day people get killed there – civilian people,” Putin said.
Maria Butina, a Russian citizen, who was arrested in the USA, was not executing any tasks for the Russian authorities, no matter what she may say. Therefore, there are no grounds for accusations against Butina in the United States, Putin said. “They force her to confess, but I do not really understand what she can confess there, because she was not fulfilling any assignments of the state bodies of Russia, and I can responsibly declare this to you, no matter what she’s saying there under the influence of threats of imprisonment for 12-15 years,” said Putin. “I don’t understand why they jailed her. There is simply no reason for it,” Putin added.
Speaking about the detention of foreign citizens in the United States, Putin said that Moscow would not be acting on an “eye for an eye” principle to subsequently exchange prisoners. Speaking about the case of Skripal poisoning, Putin said that there was nothing to comment on – Skripal and his daughter are alive, but the media hype does not subside. Thus, the Skripal case is only a pretext for an attack on Moscow, Putin said. “If there had been no Skripals, they would have come up with something else just to contain the development of Russia as a competitor,” Putin said.
At the same time, Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi is dead, but no one introduces sanctions, the Russian president recalled, pointing out the policy of double standards in the West. The Russian president believes that the Russian economy has adapted itself to international sanctions. Generally, Russia has always been living under sanctions which the West impose on Russia at the time when Russia’s power and international influence grows.
The West has lost the Russian market, and the number of jobs in the West has declined. The unemployment level in Russia is only 4.8 percent, while in EU countries, for example, in Spain, it reaches 15 percent, he said. Moreover, restrictions forced the Russians to think different in many areas. The share of transport engineering currently makes up more than 90 percent, while sales to the foreign market have increased.
Answering a question about growing nostalgia for the times of the USSR among the Russians, President Vladimir Putin said that he considered the restoration of socialism in Russia impossible. “I think it is impossible,” he said. “A profound change in society excludes the restoration of socialism … this is impossible,” the president added.
Speaking about elements of socialism that can and even need to be restored, Putin noted the equitable distribution of resources, the aspiration to reduce the level of poverty to a minimum, ensure medical and educational services to people on acceptable conditions. “We are carrying out such policies now. This is what our national projects aim to,” Putin said.
With regard to the withdrawal of American troops from Syria, Putin said that the United States withdraws troops from Afghanistan every year. The withdrawal of US troops from Syria, is not yet visible either, he noted. Putin said that there was no need for US troops to be present in Syria. “Let us not forget that the presence of US troops in Syria is illegitimate.
UN Security Council had not confirmed the presence of US troops in Syria. It is only the decision of the UN Security Council or the invitation from the legitimate government of Syria that can make the presence of a foreign military contingent in Syria legal,” Putin added.
Vladimir Putin agreed with Donald Trump who said that the United States contributed to the destruction of terrorists in Syria. “I agree with Donald here,” he said but recalled that Russia had taken immense efforts to destroy terrorists. “Despite all discrepancies, there’s still quite a constructive dialogue between our specialists, our military men and special services to resolve acute problems in the struggle against terrorism in Syria,” Putin said.