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Tuesday, 6 March, 2001, 12:51 GMT
Putin live: Transcript of webcast

This is the full text of Russian President Vladimir Putin's webcast live from the Kremlin.

 Click here to watch a recording of the webcast in English

[Question]Vladimir Vladimirovich. This is a rather unusual format. No journalist for any publication has ever had 15,000 questions. Our readers can do that. Tell me please, what is your attitude towards the internet? How do you use this form of communication?

I think the internet is a very promising forum for interacting, communicating and obtaining information. It's very interesting. I'm very interested in it, I have to say.

Unfortunately, I do not make much use of it myself because of inbred laziness, on the one hand, and on the other hand because I have plenty of other resources - a large staff of aides who do this as a job and provide me with a kind of ready product.

But I do make use of products from the internet. In particular, condensed versions of various internet publications such as and others. I have all of this and I look through it, just as I do my daily postbag. I also make use of analytical press articles as well.

We are receiving very many questions on this topic. For example, Muscovites Aleksey Kotikov and Nikolay Gorshkov, Vladimir Benediktov from St Petersburg, Andrey Peremitin from Krasnodar, and also questions from Novosibirsk and even Toronto.

We can generally put the question the following way. Do you think that that there is a need to replace a significant part of leading officials in central and regional authorities? If your answer is positive, what could be the source for new cadres in your view?

I would like to say, first and foremost, that it is impossible, it is impossible to achieve overnight a fundamental change in the situation in almost any sphere. ...Personnel work requires attention to what one is doing, a serious and professional approach. This is first.

Secondly, we have many well-qualified administrators, people who really give of their best. These people are the majority. Using this opportunity, I would like to thank them for their work. But of course, modern demands require modern administrators, with the right level of knowledge and the ability to meet the challenges of our time. This work must be implemented systematically.

What reserve can there be? From just among those who use the Internet, because as a rule these are upwardly mobile people, young, energetic and well educated. But, if we are to be quite serious about it, then naturally these are young people first and foremost. Above all, these are young people who want to serve society, the state, who see in that a method of realizing themselves.

[Bridget Kendall] Vladimir Vladimirovich, I personally and the BBC as a whole are very glad that we have the opportunity to take part in this event. We also have thousands of questions. And my first question perhaps reflects the concerns of many people. This is from Jonathan Jones from Texas, USA, who asks: "What is more important to you? Democracy or the rule of law?

I would also like to add the following from Dmitry, who is 16 years old and lives in Nizhny Novgorod: "As a representative of the younger generation, I am very worried about the political situation in Russia. I understand that Communism will never be revived now, but, in spite of that, some of the steps you have taken put me on my guard. What do you think, what path should Russia take in its development at the present time?"

As far as the relationship or priorities in the area of democracy, on the one hand, and legality, on the other, are concerned, I have to say the question is slightly unusual because I think that, in the classical sense of the word, democracy is inseparable from legality.

If society is guided by the generally accepted rules set out in normative documents which are called laws, if these laws are adopted in accordance with democratic procedures, this then is a democratic society.

I think that the one should not be separated from the other, in fact it is harmful if this happens. So, one of our main areas of work is to improve the legislative basis of the state and the country's judicial and legal system.

As for the possible concerns of some of our citizens or those living abroad who feel for our country who worry about how the state will develop, I can say that for as long as I remain head of state, we will adhere precisely to democratic principles of development, we will develop the political structure of society, we will develop a civic society, we will strive to ensure that state institutions are under public control.

We shall be persistent and consistent in doing this. I am sure that this country simply has no other alternative but democratic development and market economy.

We have just received a rather interesting question from Yury Mukhin in Archangel. Frankly, he is not the only one asking about this. Literally, there are a hundred or more questions. Vladimir Vladimirovich, what do you intend to do, how do you plan to raise the prestige of our army?

We have been talking a lot about this in recent years. To raise the prestige of the army it must be made effective, the public must understand that it needs an army which serves the interests of the nation, of the whole of society, an army which defends the interests of the state. In my view society at present does have this understanding.

We should strive for our army to be highly professional, well trained, provided with modern equipment, and - beyond all doubt - for it to remain outside politics, so that the army - and the other power structures of the country - should be under the control of society.

All this taken together, combined with an suitable level of prosperity among servicemen, ought in my view to lead to an improvement of the situation in this sphere.

Vladimir Vladimirovich, we will keep referring to our audience. This is not a ruse - questions keep pouring in. Taking into account the young age of the audience, there are many questions concerning education.

What is your attitude towards paid education? What do you think about the education reform announced in Russia?

I think that some elements of our past life, our Soviet life, do deserve to be remembered with kind words. Education is one of them. Education, medicine and science - they were all things the former Soviet Union could be proud of, and rightly so.

There is an explanation for this. Today, in countries that have a planned economy, you can see that they are quite successful in these fields. One can understand why. The state is able to concentrate enormous resources in those areas that it regards as priorities. As regards education, I would say the following: we are going to try, at least I am going to try to preserve what was best in the previous education system.

And I repeat, it was a good system. But, of course, life goes on and new requirements emerge, and education should fit in with the times and meet these new and the latest requirements. It should be focused on the future.

Of course education today -and this is acknowledged practically the world over - together with science is in essence a materialized instrument of development. That is how we are going to treat it.

Here is a question that really is being asked very frequently. Before you took power, the word "reform" was usually used only in conjunction with the word "economic" and the one did not exist without the other. Now that you are in power, there is more and more talk - and you have added to your list of priorities - reform of state power, military reform, reform of the state system itself.

Does this mean that, in your view, economic reform has already been achieved, or that, on the contrary, it is impossible to complete it and achieve the desired results without reform of the system of state power?

If one conceives the concept of reform and its ultimate manifestation as the shift from a planned economy to a market one, then to a large extent the desired result has already been achieved. This, however, is not the ultimate goal of the reform process. The ultimate goal is the strengthening of the economy and on this base the growth of the material wellbeing of the population.

A good deal is yet to be done to create such a mechanism. But it's absolutely clear that this goal is impossible to achieve without having an efficiently functioning state and its institutions. This issue overlaps a great deal with the question asked by Bridget: in a democratic society, it's impossible to adopt appropriate laws without a certain consensus in society.

Why have we been marking time, in fact, for nearly eight years in this sphere, in the sphere of economic reform? Because in a democratic society where the parliament had to take decisions but at the same time there was no consensus either in society or the parliament itself it was impossible to adopt any decisions. That's why we were marking time. Both spheres are very much interconnected, and it's impossible to achieve results in economic reforms without changing the system of functioning of the state itself.

[Bridget Kendall] We have received many questions concerning Chechnya. There is a question from Ilse Homburg from Denmark. She asks whether you believe that the Chechen people, against whom Russia has been using such cruel methods of suppression, will be able to regard Russia as its friend in the future.

And also, from Issa Akhmed, who lives in Geneva, Switzerland. Would it not be wiser to channel the resources you are spending on the Chechnya campaign into restoring Russia's wrecked economy instead?

I would like to thank our viewers for these questions, because they show how many people in the West do not understand what is going on in our country in the Caucasus and especially in Chechnya.

The Russian army and the Russian nation as a whole have never waged any kind of campaign against the Chechen nation. The Russian army, and this applies in particular to recent events, was forced to react to the gauntlet that the extremists and international terrorists threw down when they attacked Dagestan.

[Bridget Kendall] ...I have been there myself on the border with Chechnya. I have talked with many people and they have a very poor opinion of Russia and the Russian government.

Many of them do have a poor opinion, but many have a good opinion. I can tell you why. It is because the Chechens themselves received nothing from their self-appointed rulers apart from robbery and fraud.

And we think that the actions of the Russian army are aimed at the liberation of the Chechen people from the terrorists who have seized power there, who are compromising both Islam and the Chechen people, by attacking neighbouring territories, just as is happening right now between Kosovo and Macedonia. That's the first thing.

The second is the targeting of the resources which we are devoting to restoring order, in particular to Chechnya. On this I ought to say the following: generally, the money and resources as such for the development of the economy do play some sort of role. But - and I wish to stress this - the role is far from being definitive.

The definitive role is played by the conditions which the state sets for the economy - and by the ability of the state to safeguard the implementation of these conditions. If we, in our country, do not have the strength or ability to introduce elementary order in our country, if we are to live in a country which is decomposing and falling apart, then there is absolutely no point whatsoever in talking about economic development. In such a case you might as well toss all your money and all your resources into what we call a bottomless barrel. There will not be any result.

Therefore, I am calling on everyone who hears us, who sees us, and who wants to hear and see and understand us to cooperate with us in solving one of the main problems of our time, ie the fight against extremism and terrorism. Then there will be order, prosperity and development in our country, in Europe and in the whole world.

For the sake of contrast, perhaps, I would like to ask you a more optimistic question. The point is that -

The previous question was not pessimistic.

The answer was not pessimistic. The point is that we have already received many invitations for you to visit practically every region of our country and even invitations to visit some foreign countries. We have received very many invitations. I cannot possibly read them all out. But I would like to read one of them. And I think you will understand why.

Esteemed Vladimir Vladimirovich, many things have changed in our school since 1 September 2000, when you presented to us some computers with Internet access. We now communicate with the entire world, trying to understand it. Do visit us again. Pupils from the village of Kuzkino, Shugunsky District, Samara Region. And they also asked us to show you the site they created and your opinion of it.

The site is good, but not quite right. I would have included mushrooms and not apples in it. I know for sure that mushrooms there are very tasty because I tried them. I am very glad that they now have the opportunity to use the Internet. I wish them every success in their studies, good results at the end of school year and I would like to send my warmest and best wishes to all residents of the village and to the parents of those pupils.

(Click here for part two of the transcript.)

BBC Monitoring, based in Caversham in southern England, selects and translates information from radio, television, press, news agencies and the Internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages.

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