On Russia's economy and upcoming elections
Vladimir Putin believes that Russia must be a 21st century country with a hi-tech powered economy.
"Our GDP grew by 75% since 2000, while industrial production surged 70%, the processing industry grew at an accelerated pace," the president pointed out. Putin added that taxes have tripled since 2000, and the country's reserves have increased 30-fold.
“Russia must keep its eyes fixed on the future. It must be up-to-date. Its political system must be flexible and its economy must be built on high technology," he told the annual news conference. "Labor productivity must grow many times."
The Russian leader recalled that he expressed his opinion on this several times "at both mass events and in more private conversations."
Putin said he would prefer to avoid discussing his election program for now, but at the same time, he said that "practically it exists already."
"Today’s occasion is possibly not the right moment for presenting it," he added. Putin admitted that people have reasons to complain, adding that the opposition has failed to offer any practical agenda.
"People definitely are not happy with many things and they have a point, because better results could be achieved," he pointed out. "But when they start to compare and assess what opposition leaders, particularly leaders of the non-systemic opposition, have to offer, they begin to have doubts. I believe, this is the main issue that those seeking to become a competitive opposition are facing - they need to offer a practical agenda that the people would believe in, rather than bringing forward a hysterical and unclear agenda," the president noted.
"As for the opposition, it is important not only to make noise on the streets and at various meetings, speaking about an unpopular regime, but also to offer ways to make things better," the Russian leader suggested.
On anti-Russian sanctions
The Russian economy managed to overcome a significant collapse in oil prices and Western sanctions, President Vladimir Putin said.
"Growth is present, but what is it based on? Firstly, we overcame two known shocks in mid-2014 and 2015. That is the dramatic decline in prices on energy resources, which until now had provided a significant portion of budget revenues. Secondly, there are the external restrictions, the so-called sanctions. I say with confidence that the sanctions did not exert as much influence as the oil price drop did, but influenced the economy nevertheless," Putin said.
Growth of the Russian economy is an "obvious fact," the President said. "Our GDP rose 1.6% this year and industrial output also grew by 1.6%. Very good growth rates were demonstrated at the same time by automotive industry, chemical industry, pharmaceuticals and, certainly, agriculture," Putin said.
Oil prices plummeted in mid-2014 and was even less than $30 per barrel early in 2016. Brent oil is currently traded at the level of $60 a barrel. The United States and Europe introduced sanctions against Russia concurrently with the oil price drop in 2014 and continue to expand them.
On the work of the Russian government
Putin believes that the current Russian government’s work is satisfactory.
"As for the current government, in general I believe that its work is satisfactory, despite the well-known problems," Putin said, mentioning some burning issues, namely housing and public utilities.
Due to the government’s activity, Russia has regained a steady macroeconomic development and foreign investments in the country have grown, he said.
"If this had not been so, there would not have been direct foreign investments because all this is the result of the growing trust in the policy conducted by the Russian government," the president said.
Putin refused to answer a question on the work of the cabinet in the future, saying this is premature. "It will be probably better to speak about this after the election, but certainly, I have some provisional ideas," said Putin, who earlier announced plans to run in the 2018 election as an independent candidate.
On Russia's banking system
Vladimir Putin considers it necessary to continue attempts on recovery of Russia’s financial and banking system:
"The recovery of financial system is still necessary, first of all on behalf of the clients," he said speaking about the actions of Russia's Central Bank.
According to Putin, "currently the number of banks (521) is still too high for the level of [Russia’s - TASS] economic development."
"Inflation targeting is a correct process. This is a compulsory element of the policy if we want a healthy economy credible with investors," the president said.
The Central Bank shifted to the policy of floating exchange rate of the ruble and inflation targeting starting 2015. The regulator’s Chief Elvira Nabiullina said earlier that inflation will not exceed 3% in 2017, and will stay within around the level of 4% in the first half of 2018.
As of December 13, annual inflation in Russia is at a record low level of 2.5%. The Economic Development Ministry projects that inflation will equal 0.4-0.5% in December, and stay within the level of 2.5-2.6% by the end of this year.
On defense spending
Russia will spend 2.8 trillion rubles ($47.7 bln) on defense procurement and maintenance of military equipment and armaments in 2018, according to the president.
"For the next year, the defense spending will be 1.4 trillion rubles on procurement and 1.4 trillion rubles on maintenance [of military equipment], so that’s 2.8 trillion rubles. This is about 2.8% of the GDP," Putin said.
In comparison, the United States has authorized a $700 bln budget for the military, Putin said. "Feel the difference," he stressed.
The Russian leader noted that military spending won’t affect Russia’s social programs. "Our military spending is balanced by several substantial moments. First, we need to ensure our security, second - to take steps so that this won’t ruin the economy. We judge from this," he said.
In late September, an explanatory note to the budget wrote that the defense spending in 2018 will reach more than 2.77 trillion rubles, or 100 billion rubles less compared with 2017. The document said that the budget spending on national defense in 2019 will rise to 2.79 trillion rubles and in 2020 to 2.8 trillion rubles.
On middle ground between economic development and environmental concerns
Vladimir Putin urges to reach the "golden mean" between developing economy and preserving ecology:
"As for environmental issues, this problem arises all the time and everywhere - the relationship between environmental protection and development. We must always look for the golden mean. We have already made a decision in this area - if, for example, implementation of certain industrial infrastructure projects is related to deforestation, it is necessary to carry out compensatory forest plantations," he said.
Putin noted that Russia would be on the right track, if it continues on the same path approaching the problems of development and preservation of nature.
On the Arctic
The Arctic’s industrial development, including the production of natural resources, should go hand in hand with its ecology and military security, the Russian president said.
"We have a separate program on developing the Arctic, and here it is important that the Arctic’s development, which includes the production of natural resources, and those are extremely different resources, (…) should go hand in hand with caring about the environment, observing all the requirements to work in that sensitive region," Putin stressed.
The president also told reporters about the important issue of ecology and military security in the region. "I remember going to Franz Josef Land, where a few years ago foreign guides would tell foreign tourists - ‘these are the islands, which only recently used to belong to Russia.’ They somehow forgot that those are Russian islands, but we refreshed their memories and now everything is fine there," he said with irony.
The president quoted Russia’s renowned scientist Mikhail Lomonosov, who wrote that Russia’s strength would grow with Siberia. The president continued by saying, in modern times it is more precise to say Russia’s strength would be growing with the Arctic territories.
He said that it is crucial to pay attention to the North’s poorly numbered indigenous peoples. "It is unacceptable to ruin their traditional interests, and if something inevitably contradicts implementing major national projects, then, of course, there should be measures of compensation," the president noted.
On Russia's preparations for the World Cup
All stadiums that will host the matches of the 2018 FIFA World Cup will be prepared on time and at a high level, the Russian president said.
"We’ve got extensive experience of successfully holding large competitions. The Confederations Cup was held at the highest possible level. It is very important to us that FIFA (the Federation Internationale de Football Association) inspectors are accompanying the preparations for the tournament," he said.
"Everything goes according to plan, but for the sake of objectiveness it should be noted that there is a two-month delay at one in 12 stadiums in 11 cities. But it can be put right. I am confident that everything will be done on schedule and at a high quality level," he added.
Putin noted that less than half of the tournament budget is public funds and the rest is private investments. "That said, the state funds, like during the preparations for the Sochi Olympic Games, are being spent and will be spent chiefly to prepare the infrastructure: roads, airports and so on," he added.
The FIFA World Cup matches will be held in Moscow, St. Petersburg, Sochi, Kazan, Rostov-on-Don, Kaliningrad, Volgograd, Nizhny Novgorod, Samara, Saransk and Yekaterinburg from June 14 to July 15, 2018.
Putin's annual news conferences over the years
Presidential Spokesman Dmitry Peskov earlier said that Thursday’s news conference would be special:
"The interest in this conference is huge, and this news conference will be special. Now that the current presidential term is about to expire and we know that Putin will run in the upcoming presidential election, it [the conference] will probably be even more significant than the 2012 news conference, when Putin was re-elected president."
The Russian president traditionally convenes his annual news conference in December to sum up the outgoing year’s results and it is not subject to any time limits.
The shortest of these news conferences lasted for 1 hour and 33 minutes back in 2001, while the longest on record was in 2008, running for 4 hours and 40 minutes.