By Pavel Panov and Roza Almakunova. Izvestia, Dec. 6, 2019, p. 2. Condensed text:
The Russian economy is stable, while real incomes are going to grow by 0.2%-0.3% by the end of 2019, the Russian prime minister stated in his traditional year-end press conference dedicated to the government’s work over the past year. . . .
The interview lasted two hours. During that time, [Medvedev] managed to answer questions not only about the Russian economy, but also about the situation with health care, garbage reform, Russian sports and Russian citizens’ every-day problems. He also touched on the usual topics – Ukraine and relations with the West.
Most of the questions the prime minister fielded concerned the current and future state of the Russian economy. [He] discussed infrastructure projects, unemployment, boosting Russians’ real incomes and the effect of sanctions on foreign trade. According to Dmitry Medvedev, overall, the outgoing year proved fairly stable for the Russian economy. Gross domestic product is expected to grow at 1.3%-1.5% [annually]. There is growth, albeit insignificant, the prime minister said. Dmitry Medvedev called the inflation rate for 2019 the lowest in the country’s history – 3.8%. He also called the unemployment situation favorable; this year, [the unemployment rate] was at 4.6%-4.7%. By comparison, the prime minister cited other leading countries, where the average unemployment rate is 8%-10% – “that’s millions of people,” he stressed. The government will continue its efforts to boost real disposable incomes and Russians’ overall prosperity, he assured everyone.
Dmitry Medvedev admitted that in some cases, implementing the national projects and achieving national goals was off to a slower start than expected. In 2020, it is necessary to take past mistakes into account and ensure sustainable economic growth, he said.
“According to a well-known decree of the president [the so-called May decrees; see Vol. 70, No. 18‑19, pp. 3‑6 – Trans.] and the national [development] goals, we need to grow at the rate of the global economy, which is about 3% a year. That is quite achievable,” the prime minister said.
According to [Medvedev], the budget surplus, which this year will constitute 1.8% of GDP, creates a solid rainy day fund and allows for optimism about the future.
He stated that in the next few years, about 1 trillion rubles from the National Welfare Fund will be earmarked for economic development; [he added] that the decision to “break open the piggy bank” was not an easy one. Those funds will go toward investment projects, but they must be used proportionally: 20% [of funds] will come from the state and 80% from investments. Dmitry Medvedev also touched on the need to implement administrative and legislative reforms, reduce barriers to businesses and improve the business climate in Russia.
According to Andrei Margolin, deputy dean of the Russian President’s Academy of National Economy and Public Administration, in light of the [anti-Russian] sanctions that are not going anywhere in the foreseeable future, Russia needs to rely on domestic resources. The country has plenty of resources to ensure steady economic growth, he believes.
The indicators listed by the prime minister are real figures that are the result of the current situation in the country and the world, Andrei Margolin added. People are more concerned about economic development in the coming year and how effective the current measures to boost GDP turn out to be, the expert concluded.
Using National Welfare Fund assets to stimulate the economy is generally the right approach, believes Andrei Polbin, an expert with the Gaidar Institute for Economic Policy. He stressed that economic reforms must be carried out in the leading industries – namely, in information technology and infrastructure, but not in raw materials sector.
[The prime minister] also discussed the high-profile domestic violence bill, which is currently being actively discussed at all levels [see the article under Human Rights, below]. Under the current version of the document, the assailant may be prohibited from contacting the victim for more than 30 days, as well as forced from the home that they shared with the victim. However, opinions on the bill’s contents were divided, and it will be sent back for revision. REN TV asked the prime minister what changes need to be made to the current bill and whether its adoption makes sense.
“I will be honest with you: I don’t yet have a conclusive position on this bill,” said Dmitry Medvedev. “But I think that in the 21st century, the saying ‘If he beats you, he loves you’ no longer cuts it.” . . .
In just a few days, the World Antidoping Agency’s executive committee will meet in Lausanne, where it will decide not only the fate of Russian Olympic athletes but of teams at various levels. This concerns an investigation by WADA experts into data manipulation at a Moscow [antidoping] laboratory [see Vol. 71, No. 48, pp. 14‑15, and p. 15]. A recommendation has been issued to bar Russia from all world sports events for four years. In addition, Russia may be barred from applying to host international competitions during that time.
Despite the difficult situation, Dmitry Medvedev assured everyone that regardless of what the WADA executive committee decides, Russian sports officials will fight for clean athletes’ right to participate in key international competitions. . . .
Dmitry Medvedev was also asked about the summer protests in Moscow. The last protest took place on Aug. 31. According to official estimates, it drew 750 people.
You cannot solve problems through protests, the prime minister believes. He said that right now, all the [criminal] cases against the participants of the Moscow protests need to be thoroughly investigated.
“This is not arbitrary justice, it’s very specific,” Dmitry Medvedev stressed.
In his opinion, actions like those taken by the “yellow vests” in France never result in anything good, only in the “merciless and senseless,” which is what riots have always been like in Russia, according to [Aleksandr Pushkin, author of “The Captain’s Daughter,” which Medvedev quoted – Trans.].
The prime minister was also asked about the future of the Russian Internet, relations with Ukraine and integration with Belarus. YouTube will not be blocked in Russia, the head of government promised. As for the law on the sovereign Internet [see Vol. 71, No. 15, p. 11], according to Medvedev, its goal is not to prohibit something but to ensure that Russia is not cut off from the Web.
Dmitry Medvedev assured everyone that integration with Belarus is proceeding according to plan. As for Minsk’s concern about its sovereignty, [such concerns] are groundless, because any integration implies surrendering part of a state’s sovereignty to a surpanational body.
According to the prime minister, when it comes to Ukraine, “the story is much more sad and complicated.” However, current Ukrainian leader Vladimir Zelensky clearly “wants to reach an agreement on key development issues for his country.” Here, everything depends on whether he has enough strength and political courage. . . .