June 7, 2018 / 12:58 PM / 5 months ago

HIGHLIGHTS-Key quotes from Russian President Putin's annual phone-in

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MOSCOW, June 7 (Reuters) - The following are highlights from Russian President Vladimir Putin’s annual phone-in on Thursday:

ON NATIONALISING OIL SECTOR

“Maybe it was wrong, back in the day, and we shouldn’t have created new billionaires, maybe there wasn’t enough to justify doing so. But what’s done is done. Whatever we could return at the last minute, we did. I am referring for example to the creation, in essence, of a controlling stake, under the government’s control, in Gazprom, and the creation of such a controlling stake in leading oil company Rosneft.”

“Nationalising the whole oil sector would be a difficult and highly dangerous process, which could have negative consequences not only for the sector but for the whole economy.”

“We must make sure that no matter who these businesses belong to, they work within the boundaries of the law, that they invest in resource extraction and processing on the territory of this country, that they fulfil their duties before the budget in full, and make their businesses effective businesses which can compete on global markets. And, in reality, our oil companies are achieving this.”

ON WEAPONS SYSTEMS

“There are weapons being developed, which I have already mentioned: two pieces of hardware with nuclear-powered engines, a global-range missile and an unmanned underwater vessel. In both cases we have completed the main development phase, in particular everything to do with testing the nuclear-powered engine…”

“But this is not all we plan to produce and put into service. It’s too early to talk about it but we will do so soon.”

ON SYRIA

“Firstly, the use of our armed forces in the battlefield is a unique experience, a unique tool by which to improve our armed forces. No amount of military exercise could compare with the use of force in combat conditions.”

“Yes, we know that the use of force in battlefield conditions is also associated with loss of life… But this was an important, a noble mission, aimed at protecting the interests of the Russian Federation and its citizens.”

“Let me remind you that thousands of militants left Russia and the countries of Central Asia – with whom we do not have hard borders – and gathered on Syrian soil. It was better to deal with them there, to get to work there, so to speak, and liquidate them there, than let them come back here, weapons in hand.”

“Major military operations, particularly involving Russian armed forces, have ended. There isn’t even a need for them anymore.”

“Our soldiers are there (in Syria) in order to secure Russia’s interests in this critically important part of the world, which is so near to us. And they will stay there, for as long as it is in Russia’s interest for them to do so.”

“As yet we do not plan to withdraw these forces. But I direct your attention to the fact that I did not call these bases by any other name – I called them bases. We are not building long-term military structures there and if we need to, we could withdraw our military personnel very quickly, without incurring any financial losses.”

ON CRYPTO CURRENCIES

“Russia, by definition, cannot have its own crypto currency just as no other country can have its own crypto currency, because when we talk about crypto currencies, we refer to something that goes beyond national boundaries.”

“Secondly, so-called (crypto currency) mining is not subject to regulations here and we, by and large, treat it with a lot of caution. In most countries crypto currencies are not used as a means of payment.”

“The Russian central bank believes that crypto currencies can’t be a method of payment or exchange, or be used for savings. And they, these crypto currencies, they are not backed by anything.”

“However, this phenomenon has its place in the world, and it’s developing. We need to monitor and analyse what’s going on thoroughly. And at some stage we will need to look at how we can take part in this process, how we can use it to avoid all sorts of restrictions in the sphere of international financial activity, among other things.”

ON ELECTRIC VEHICLES

“Many countries are turning to the development of ecologically friendly forms of transport, including electric vehicles, as an answer to questions about ecological conditions. This has some specific characteristics here. In order to produce electrical energy to charge electric vehicles, it is necessary to use some sort of other source of energy.”

“We have to shift to gas-fuelled vehicles and stimulate progress in this direction. Questions arise about how to organise petrol stations. Gazprom is working on this.”

ON THE ECONOMY

“Overall, we are moving in the right direction. What is the basis for saying this? We have started on the trajectory towards robust economic growth in Russia. Yes, this growth is humble, small, but it is also not a fall. Growth was at 1.5 percent last year.”

“Not everyone feels this personally but overall, this is an objective statistic. That’s how it is, it is the truth. Export in technical equipment is growing, which shows that some structural changes are going on in the economy. Export of agricultural produce, at 20 billion last year, was higher than defence exports, which were at 15 billion.”

ON TAXES

“Based on our preliminary calculations, we may in the next six years spend 17 trillion roubles (Putin said billion, but meant trillion), but to achieve the goals that we have discussed, we will need an additional 8 trillion roubles. And it is clear where we are going to find them.”

“Firstly, it is through the growth of the economy itself, that’s the main source of additional resources. It is also the more effective use of existing resources, adjustment in some senses of our macro-economic plans and of course adjustments to our tax policy.”

“Stability of tax policy must be absolutely guaranteed for the next six years.”

“Many suggest changing the personal income tax. We thought about this for a long time. At first glance, progressive personal income tax seems and looks to be fairer… But reality is more complicated than theories and formulas.”

“We had such a tax – a tax on revenue. This is a serious strain on the economy overall and in the end on citizens, because it inevitably leads to a rise in inflation. All this convinced us that introducing this was also not expedient.”

ON THE NEW GOVERNMENT

“The thing is, the development plan which we have been discussing in recent years, it was being prepared by the previous government during at least the past one and a half years. I know full well that if we were to replace the entire government 100 percent, and bring in totally new people… we would have lost at least two years, and we do not have those two years.”

“But it was also necessary to keep those, who made the decisions for our country’s progress. And to personalize responsibility for what has been done so far and for what is coming up soon.”

“I think that we have an optimal make up of government for today.”

ON GASOLINE PRICES

“What is going on right now, it is unacceptable, it is wrong. However, it must be admitted that it is the result of inaccurate regulation, that was brought in recently in the sphere of energy, in energy resources.”

“By the autumn of this year, additional measures should be introduced which will stabilize the situation on the market. I am basing this on the fact that the government will be monitoring this carefully.”

RUSSIAN ENERGY MINISTER ALEXANDER NOVAK

“Agreements have been reached at the government level with all companies to increase the production of oil products and on deliveries to the domestic market to not permit a deficit.”

“Additionally, we have worked out a series of measures aimed at stabilization. I am referring to the possibility of introducing export tariffs by the Russian government on deliveries of oil products for export. A law has been prepared on this and we will be ready to present it to parliament in the near future, and will ask parliament to support it.”

RUSSIAN DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER DMITRY KOZAK

“We are introducing the possibility for government to raise export tariffs on motor fuel and to make it equal to tariffs on oil exports. We really hope we will now have to put it to use.”

Putin response: “I will support this.”

ON THE SOCCER WORLD CUP

“With regards to the infrastructure, these 11 stadiums. Of course, we spent a lot of money on this and it is imperative that all of this infrastructure, I completely agree, it must work and above all work towards the development of sport on a large scale, including children’s sport.”

“I would like right now to address my colleagues in the regions, to ask them to not allow, under any circumstances, for flea markets and the like to appear at these stadiums, as appeared in other sport-related buildings in Moscow during the middle of the 1990s.”

“I think our Russian Football Union must play an active part in this… and develop a new generation of sportsmen and soccer players.”

“Even though our national team has not demonstrated strong results recently, but the number of fans of this beautiful sport here is massive, it’s in the millions. We will rely on the fact that our soccer team will score a big win, so to speak, and will show its best qualities.”

ON SANCTIONS

“This is a method by which to restrain Russia, the notorious sanctions, because endless accusations lay the groundwork for introducing restraining measures.”

“It is because Russia is seen as a threat, because Russia is seen as becoming a competitor. I believe this approach is mistaken. Instead of restraining whoever it would be better to establish constructive cooperation, and then the overall effect on the global economy would be positive.”

“It is clear to us that we have to defend our interests, and to do so consistently, not boorishly or rudely, in both the sphere of the economy and of defence. We have done so and we will continue to do so, but we always look for compromises, we aspire towards those compromises. The pressure will end when our partners will be persuaded that the methods they are using are ineffective, counterproductive and harmful to all.”

ON THE PROSPECT OF A THIRD WORLD WAR

“The understanding that a third world war could be the end of civilisation should restrain us from taking extreme steps on the international arena that are highly dangerous for modern civilisation.”

“The threat of mutual destruction has always restrained participants of the international arena, prevented leading military powers from making hasty moves, and compelled participants to respect each other. U.S. withdrawal from treaties on anti-ballistic missiles is an attempt to put an end to strategic parity, but we will respond to this.”

“We believe that the unilateral introduction of all kinds of sanctions does not resolve problems, it only worsens them.”

ON BALTIC STATES

“When it comes to the position of our compatriots in the countries of the Baltic, we are constantly talking about this, bringing it to the attention of the governments of the Baltic states, including Latvia… The measures that we take to protect the interests of our compatriots must be such that they do not actually worsen their situation.”

ON OTHER STATES’ APPROACH TO U.S. SANCTIONS

“This is an important part of the negotiation process with the leaders of France, Germany, also with our Austrian friends, where I was visiting just now, and with the representatives of many other European countries, let alone Asia. They don’t just say this privately now, they are talking about this publicly.”

“It appears, our partners thought that this would never affect them, this counterproductive politics of restrictions and sanctions. But now we are seeing that this is happening.”

ON STEEL TARIFFS

“The introduction, for example, of restrictive tariffs on steel, on aluminium, not only for Europe but also for Canada and Mexico, in essence these are also sanctions… They are related to the pragmatic national interests of the United States.”

“We need to work out united and consistently understandable and concrete rules on how to behave in the realm of security and in the realm of economic interaction.”

“When in 2007 I spoke in Munich, a speech that is frequently quoted nowadays… I spoke about the fact that the United States is widening the jurisdiction of its laws beyond its national borders, and that this is unacceptable. And that’s exactly what’s happening now, also to our European and other partners. Why is this happening? No one wanted to listen and no one did anything to stop this from developing.”

ON SKRIPAL CASE

“If as Britain insists a military chemical agent was used against these people, they would have died within second or minutes, on the spot. Thank God, this did not happen. Clearly we are dealing with something other than a military agent.”

“We would like to be given access to our citizens, to Yulia, and we would like to have the opportunity to take part fully in the investigation.”

ON RESTRICTIONS TO RUSSIAN BUSINESS ABROAD

“With regards to big business, I spoke about this a few years ago at one of the public meetings with our business leaders. It sounded a bit rude: I warned them that this situation, which we see today, could develop. I warned them about this and recommended at the time that our business keeps its capital in Russia, in the motherland. To keep capital in the place where it was earned and to use it to develop the Russian economy.”

“Who is going to help them abroad? They are just persecuted there. Conditions are created making their work impossible. This is a big mistake by those, who are doing this in the West. All these restrictions, all this persecution of our businesses, their difficulties with dollar transactions, it damages the trust businesses from our country and others have in the economic policies of leading global economies… When the United States limits dollar transactions, this damages trust in the dollar.”

“In essence, they are sawing the branch on which they are sitting. This is counterproductive and damaging for those involved and for the global economy.”

“Some say we need to help Abramovich and other Russian businessmen who have ended up in a difficult situation… I wouldn’t want to speak right now about those people who have broken various laws. I am speaking about people who acquired their capital through legal means. The former and the latter are better off being in Russia.”

ON UKRAINE

“I hope that things will not come to provocations [during the soccer World Cup]. If this happens I think it would have very serious consequences for the Ukrainian government in general.”

ON RESTRICTING RUSSIAN INTERNET ACCESS

“We are not going to close anything, I also know perfectly well about the situation around Telegram.”

“I am also… concerned. And do you know what about? About people’s safety.”

“At the same time, I also worked in the security services and know it is easiest to ban, and harder to find civilised solutions. Therefore, I’m going to urge all my colleagues to take this route, the route of security and law enforcement agencies using modern methods to combat offences, including terrorism, without restricting freedoms including on the Internet.”

ON SPACE PROGRAM

“We need to take many steps forward, including in the quality of our satellites, in the quality of our equipment, and we must return and maintain our competence in launches, there’s a lot of competition in this.”

“Overall and in general, we have big and very ambitious plans for the development of our space program. I assure you were will continue down this path. It is no accident that we spent a lot on building a new space base in the east of our country.”

ON EX-SPORTS MINISTER, CURRENT DEPUTY PM VITALY MUTKO

“His English obviously needs perfecting but his work as sport minister, and then deputy prime minister… A lot has been done in this area. It is enough to look at how much has been done for sports and physical culture. We should look at the facts, not the emotional aspects of his work.”

“The Sochi Olympic sites… Mutko was involved in this. The World Cup stadiums, this was largely done by Mutko. I understand everything, but I do not make emotional judgements, my judgements are based on the facts.”

“There is one other point: we know how he was attacked in connection with the doping scandal, and so on, and so on. In these circumstances it’s just impossible to send him into retirement. I repeat: he has a lot of potential. Let him work.”

ON ALLEGED MEDDLING IN 2016 U.S. ELECTION

“Recently one of Germany’s famous and popular publications wrote that President Trump is pushing Europe towards Putin. If we take this together with an earlier joke, that Russia influenced elections in the United States, then this all taken together starts sounding pretty funny. We apparently influenced the election of the U.S. President, and then he gifted us Europe. Total nonsense. There’s no way to describe this other than as a joke.”

ON RETIREMENT AGE

“As to the retirement age, I have always treated and treat it today extremely carefully and delicately.”

“One of the key tasks which I have set for the government is to increase the incomes of pensioners and increase them considerably.” (Reporting by Moscow Newsroom; writing by Polina Ivanova)

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