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On time zones, jet lag, extremes and mentality
- What time do you stick to in your daily routine!
- Local. It all depends on the place where I am on each particular day. In Moscow it’s Moscow time, and in the Kamchatka Peninsula, it’s Kamchatka time. It cannot be otherwise. Each month is split almost evenly in two parts. I spend two weeks in the capital and as many in business trips. The proportion may shift either way occasionally, but I do my utmost to preserve it. I cope quite easily with changing time zones. The jet lag is not a great problem. It is most important to have a good sleep when you need it. Flights to the Far East are long. It might seem there is enough time to have good rest on board, but sometimes I have to work on the way. Then it may be really tough. Especially if a process meeting or working conference begins the moment I’m off the plane’s ladder. No chance of taking a nap then. You have to get engaged in a conversation right away, to persuade people. You need energy for that. Just recently some colleagues of mine and me tried to reckon how much time we spent in flight over the past two years. And it turned out we had been on board airliners for a little more than a month.
- The Aeroflot airlines must’ve given you the status of its honorary passenger?
- My relationship with the national air carrier is arranged in a different fashion. At the beginning of December I met with the company’s chief Vitaly Saveliev to discuss what is to be done to make flights to the Far East affordable to all. It is essential to minimize the effects of Transaero’s dropout to ensure there should be no reduction in the number of flights and the original basic tariffs remain unchanged.
- But Aeroflot is not a charity organization. It cannot afford to operate at a loss.
- Yet the company’s management reacted with understanding. The so-called flat rate that remains unchanged year round irrespective of seasonal fluctuations will be 20,000 rubles (roughly $290) for economy class two-way tickets on flights from Moscow to Vladivostok, Khabarovsk, Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky and Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk. The current fare is 18,000 rubles. The growth will be below inflation. You are quite right, though. Aeroflot has not been relieved of its task of operating at a profit. The air carrier has received from the state the most profitable international routes previously operated by Transaero. But the social liabilities are to be remembered, too. People in Russia’s remote regions should by no means feel isolated from the mainland.
- What places do you have to fly to most often?
- Saying “have to” is not quite appropriate in this context. It is always a pleasure for me to travel to the Far East. I can explain why. In Moscow it is far harder to see the effectiveness of the job you do. You may be excelling at work from dusk to dawn, but after a week you may look back and find it hard to answer if you have accomplished something really useful. Many processes are very time-consuming and issues are addressed too slowly…
- In Russia’s individual territories it’s all different. True, the tasks there are local, but achieving a specific result is far easier. And when you see the fruits of collective efforts, you cheer up somewhat. Now a straight answer to your question: I visit the Primorye Territory most often.
- That’s the capital of the Far East, isn’t it?
- We have only one capital, Moscow. Surely, the Far East is the region’s centre of attraction. From different points of view: the concentration of economic interests, logistics projects and the existence of a federal university… Also, Primorye has two accelerated development zones. Another two such territories have been created in the Khabarovsk Territory and the Amur Region. The island of Sakhalin still has none, but I believe that we will manage to fill that blank spot before long. The island’s new governor, Oleg Kozhemyako, is a very creative personality. He has already made his proposals we will try to translate into reality in the near future. One project is for creating an Alpine Skiing resort in Sakhalin, another is for the development of the Kuril Islands, and a third, for making the area self-sufficient in foods. Bringing supplies from the mainland is too costly. It’s a long way…
We have plans for opening a tourism-oriented accelerated development zone in the Kamchatka Peninsula. This is a unique region. Other places on the globe as beatify are very few. Regrettably, this potential remains mostly untapped. There is virtually nothing in terms of services to offer to potential holiday-makers. Hotels that can offer their guests more or less decent services are scarce. The Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky sea port is in appalling condition. Not a single cruise ship will dare drop anchor there. And asphalted roads are easy to count on the fingers. The sole way of getting to the world-famous Valley of Geysers is by helicopter. And that’s a rather costly means of transportation and not very reliable due to the whims of the local weather. But developing the tourist industry in the Kamchatka Peninsula is a vital need. That’s a potential bonanza nobody has tapped to this day.
- When was your first visit to the Far East?
- Not very long ago, in 2004. Before that I’d lived in the Urals. Then Vladimir Putin invited me to take the position of Russia’s Natural Resources and Ecology Minister. Shortly after my appointment a colleague of mine in the Cabinet in those days and a good friend of mine today, German Gref, asked me to keep him company on a trip to the Far East. That’s a land worth getting familiar with; this part of the country is very special, he told me. I’ve been there many a time since, but I explored it well enough only when I became a deputy prime minister and presidential representative. My appointment coincided with a heavy flood in the Khabarovsk Territory, the Amur Region and the Jewish Autonomous Area which proved the worst in the whole of last century.
- From the frying pan into the fire, the saying goes. And you were plunged into a mighty whirlpool, I reckon.
- That was a great challenge! From the standpoint of the tight deadlines we were obliged to meet by virtue of the circumstances and the need to make fast and effective decisions. The effects of flooding were to be eliminated right away to ensure not a single person be abandoned on the streets without a roof over head. You may remember that the July 2013 flood hit an area with a population of 200,000. Twelve thousand families went homeless. President Vladimir Putin flew to the affected territories himself. I accompanied him on the trip. As I look back on the situation now, I can say that I found the stamina and firmness of the Far Eastern people really amazing. I saw no dismay or hysterias. True, many had tears in their eyes, but never without a reason. The people braced up and displayed great courage to cope with the misfortune that afflicted them. They were well-organized and efficient. If only we had worked in that way all the time, the country we live in would’ve been a whole lot different now. The precision and pace of work exceeded by far the mode in which civil servants and other functionaries operate normally. It was then that Putin made a decision to give the powers of a deputy prime minister and presidential representative in the region to one person. In September 2013 I quite often put through a phone call to Finance Minister Anton Siluanov in the evening to request funding for some temporary dam that was being put up at the moment and the money would be transferred the next morning. There was no other way of doing the job right in a situation like that. Natural disasters are not something one can afford to be light-minded about. They can’t be asked to wait a little bit until all the papers have been agreed and signatures to them collected.
- Are you saying we are successful only in extreme situations?
When everything is calm and bright we are sloppy workers. We get mobilized only when we are cornered
- Possibly, this is a special feature of Russian mentality. When everything is calm and bright we are sloppy workers. We get mobilized only when we are cornered… The government disbursed 40 billion rubles for the elimination of the effects of natural disaster and another two billion rubles or more was raised in relief aid for the victims by charity organizations and individuals. Concerted action was successful. New homes instead of the ruined ones were put up by the end of September 2014, as it had been originally expected. The last piece of work still to be done is called “minimization of risks of future floods.” This theme is still to be addressed. A large number of related issues are competences of the Natural Resources Ministry and Energy Ministry. We are to take precautions against likely unpleasant surprises in the future, although mother nature is much stronger than us, human beings, and one can never say we are capable of protecting ourselves from any calamities.
- Which of the problems in the Far East are the most acute ones?
- You may be surprised, but I would point to the human factor above all. We may be doing a lot for the sake of developing the territories, but any efforts may end in failure, if the people have no faith in the seriousness of the declared plans and fail to join the common effort. Quite frequently one may come across this type of attitude: what’s the reason for toiling away days on end knowing in advance that outsiders from Moscow or St. Petersburg will “skim the cream.” We have been doing our utmost not to give the slightest reason for such thoughts. On the other hand, the one who agrees to give in at once takes a very vulnerable position. I often ask this question: you’ve lived here all your life, you know everybody and everything. Why do you give up without a fight? We create conditions, but it is up to you to seek and attain victory. I cannot imagine a situation in which someone in the mid-1990s would come from the capital to my hometown of Perm, where I was already doing business and start dictating terms to me. I grew up there and it was there that I made myself a man. The city was home to my parents, my children, my sister and my friends… I am not saying that we did not let in any outsiders. What I mean is different: we are at home and this makes us stronger.
That’s the way it should be in the Far East. The people who live in the region have no right to feel themselves as fly-by-night drifters! This land is theirs. True, it’s hard to reconfigure people’s minds. Many still keep saying to themselves: we are here to earn cash fast. As soon as we’ve saved enough, we’ll move to central Russia. But another trend is already gaining strength. The people see the changes happening in the Far East and the conditions being created here for enterprise and they begin to realize that nothing like that can be found elsewhere in Russia. The prospects are lucrative, indeed.
- For instance?
- The accelerated development area offers a five-year tax break. The social insurance tax is far lower. There exists a free customs zone regimen. Plots of land can be leased straight from the management company without going through an ordeal of obtaining permissions from the municipalities. Fewer taxes and less time that has to be wasted on bureaucratic procedures creates very different conditions for doing business.
- But do people really believe that? Any tax break, even a five-year long one, will end some day and everything will have to be paid back many times over. Everybody remembers well the place where free cheese is on offer…
- Listen, the accelerated development area has seventy five applications already.
- Is that a lot?
- It’s the newly-founded enterprises that I am talking about. Is this what one calls few?
- Size matters.
- The overall private investment stands at 492,000 billion rubles. You won’t find parameters as high in any other federal district. As you may remember, some were telling us just recently – give us trillions of budget money and an economic boom in the Far East will be more than guaranteed. That’s an erroneous approach, to my mind. First the money is to be earned. Ours is a fundamentally new model. Private businesses find it lucrative to invest in new projects.
- And how much is the region to get from the federal budget by 2018?
- Forty two billion rubles. The figure remains unchanged, but there have been attempts at cutting it.
- You managed to beat back the attacks, didn’t you?
- Not me. The president held a special meeting. He listened to our arguments and examined the Finance Ministry’s stance to say: No cuts in spending on the Far East. And everybody got quiet. It turns out that per one ruble of budget funding we have ten or more rubles of private investment. A very decent proportion, I believe. For instance, gold mining in the Selemdzhin district of the Amur region is getting 126 billion rubles from private investors, while another 14 billion rubles comes from the federal budget. At the Tayozhny Mining and Ore Dressing Combine and the stevedore complex at the Vanino sea port the situation is basically the same. True, some other projects are not proceeding as smoothly. But we are determined to address issues. Step by step.