MOSCOW (Reuters) - Following are edited highlights of Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s comments in an annual question-and-answer session with Russian citizens on Thursday:
ON WHETHER HE WILL RUN FOR PRESIDENT IN 2012
“I will think about it. There’s plenty of time.”
“It’s only 2009. The biggest mistake would be to subordinate current work to the interests of a future electoral campaign ... As soon as somebody starts to think about ratings, to think about how he should behave in the best of interests of a future electoral campaign, he will soon feel that his hands are tied.”
ON WHEN KHODORKOVSKY MIGHT GET OUT OF JAIL
“Unfortunately no-one remembers that one of the YUKOS security service chiefs is now in prison ... It is obvious that he was acting in the interest and on the orders of his bosses ... There are five proved murders.”
ON TANDEM WITH PRESIDENT MEDVEDEV
“(Relations within the tandem are) good. We graduated from the same university, had the same teachers, who not only gave us the same knowledge but a common approach to life. Those common principles allow us to work efficiently today.”
“I’m not supporting Yulia Tymoshenko in Ukraine’s presidential elections. We are co-operating with Yulia Vladimirovna Tymoshenko as prime minister of Ukraine’s government ... On a party level, we have special relations with the Party of the Regions (of Viktor Yanukovich).”
“We have done a lot to break the spine of terrorism, but the threat has not been fully liquidated ... The threat of terrorism remains very high.”
“We need to strengthen our work to this end and, of course, we need to be very tough on criminals that carry out any act of terrorism that encroaches on people’s lives and well-being.”
ON FINANCIAL CRISIS
“The peak of the crisis has been overcome ... Exit from the crisis requires time, strength and no little funds.”
“Some experts had said the decline in GDP will be around 10 percent. It is still significant, but better than we had thought -- somewhere around 8.5-8.7 percent. Industrial production has also shrunk, probably by around 13 percent (in 2009).”
“The economy has grown by an average of 0.5 percent per month over the last five months. I’m counting on these positive trends in economic development becoming more significant in the middle of next year.”
ON STATE CORPORATIONS
“They (state corporations) are neither bad, nor good. They are a necessity.”
“We must not lose this (Lada) brand, even if the share of our foreign partners changes ... We will never agree to pure assembly functions and the level of localization or parts production in Russia must be high, not less than 60-70 percent.”
Putin said the state and Renault could invest more if AvtoVAZ’s restructuring was successful and added he believed the ailing firm had a bright future. “And we must fight for it.”
He said Russian government efforts to save AvtoVAZ were no different from U.S. efforts to save General Motors: “We even don’t know what they (U.S. government) have done, how much money they have given (to GM) and through which channels.”
ON THE RICH
“The nouveau riche all of a sudden got rich very quickly, but they cannot manage their wealth without showing it off all the time. Yes, this is our problem.”
“In Soviet times, some of our rich showed off their wealth by having gold teeth put in, preferably at the front. The Lamborghinis and other pricey knickknacks -- they are simply today’s gold teeth, which are shown off to everybody.”
“Accession to the WTO remains our strategic goal, but we have the impression that for some unknown reasons some countries, including the United States, are hindering our accession to the WTO.”
“Agricultural workers have supported the economy of the whole country. Results have been better than we expected at the start of the year. Livestock has displayed significant growth and a 90 million-tonne crop is a very good result for Russia.”
“In 2009, from different sources, loans totaling 700 billion roubles ($24.1 billion) were given out in the agricultural sector.”
ON 1974 U.S. JACKSON-VANIK AMENDMENT
“This is a clear anachronism, which representatives of different lobby groups in the U.S. Congress are trying to use to help solve narrow, selfish industrial-economic problems. Some, for example, are linking it with the necessity to increase quotas on U.S. poultry or with some other questions.”
ON BIRTH RATES
“Birth rates are growing at a record pace -- it will be over 3 percent -- and death rates are also falling ... This has an economic impact too, because it supports demand.”
A caller from Moscow asked Putin why he is not responding to criticism from Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko.
“Maybe it’s love?” said Putin.
Putin said economic preferences for Belarus would depend on political integration between the two countries.
“It is my deep conviction that it should be synchronized with the process of integration with the union state. The deeper this integration, the greater the possibility of a transfer to domestic Russian prices.”
“There are 1.4 million employees in the Interior Ministry today. They fulfill an important role. Many of them risk their lives, not only in hot spots, but in their everyday work.
“It’s unacceptable to tar all policemen with the same brush, but the reaction to any negative incidents should be particularly quick and severe.”
ON POWER REFORM
“Various ideas are emerging that it makes no sense to invest money in power that was pledged by new owners during the reform, because we may face a crisis of over-production of power.
“I don’t think these arguments are justified, given the pace of the recovery of our and global economies. We cannot afford to be late on power sector development.”
Putin said Russia would launch 10,000 megawatts of new power capacity in the next two years.
“We have big plans to develop nuclear power engineering. If, in Soviet years, there were 35 or 38 large nuclear reactors built during all those decades, as far as I know, then in the next 10 years we plan to build another 30 or 32.”
ON STEEL INDUSTRY
“Rashnikov is a good boss.” (in reference to the main owner of Magnitogorsk Iron and Steel Works).
“We will support the mortgage market. We will provide an extra 250 billion roubles to help bring interest rates on mortgage credits to 10-11 percent as the first step.”
ON ONE-INDUSTRY TOWNS
“If the situation demands, I will come to you and to any other spot in the country. It is my duty.”
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