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One Year Later, Israel Has Yet To Answer For Shireen Abu Akleh's Assassination




Veteran Palestinian journalist Shireen Abu-Akleh was covering an Israeli raid on Jenin Refugee Camp in her official capacity as a reporter for Al Jazeera on May 11, 2022, when an unnamed Israeli sniper fired a bullet into the thin space between the back of her helmet and her flak jacket, killing her. At the time, Abu-Akleh was fleeing Israeli gunfire directed towards her and other observing journalists, including Al Jazeera producer Ali Al-Samudi, who was wounded moments before Abu-Akleh’s death.

One year later, Israeli military forces have issued an apology for killing Shireen Abu Akleh. This follows countless reports from journalist eyewitnesses, analyses by multiple international outlets, condemnation from world governments, and a joint investigation which determined Israeli forces deliberately targeted Abu Akleh. Israel’s admission thus reflects a definitive loss of the narrative battle over the course of a full year rather a morally-directed decision. Al Jazeera Front Lines senior producer Kavitha Chekuru joins The Chris Hedges Report to discuss Abu Akleh’s assassination and the status of her case one year later.

Kavitha Chekuru is a senior producer for Al Jazeera’s Front Lines, which released the documentary The Killing of Shireen Abu Akleh last December.

Studio Production: Cameron Granadino, Adam Coley, David Hebden, Darian Jones
Post-Production: Adam Coley
Audio Post-Production: Tommy Harron


Chris Hedges:  Shireen Abu Akleh, the Al Jazeera reporter with more than two decades of experience covering armed conflicts, knew the protocol. She and other reporters remained in the open, clearly visible to Israeli snipers about 650 ft away. Her flak jacket was emblazoned with the word, “Press.” There were two initial rounds of shooting that were fired at the journalists. In the first, producer Ali Al-Samudi was shot.

As the journalist turned to run away from the gunfire, Shireen was shot below her helmet during the second round, according to the human rights organization Al-Haq. There were a few seconds when the Israeli sniper clearly saw a profile in his scope, of Abu Akleh, one of the most recognizable faces in the Middle East. The accuracy of the M16, – Especially the M16A4, equipped with the advanced combat optical gun sight, a prismatic telescopic sight – Is very high.

In the fighting in Fallujah, for example, so many dead insurgents were found with head wounds that observers at first thought they had been executed. The bullet that killed Abu Akleh was deftly placed between the very slim opening separating her helmet and the collar of her flak jacket. I have been in combat, including in clashes between Israeli and Palestinian forces. Snipers are dreaded on a battlefield because each kill is calculated. The execution of Abu Akleh was not an accident: she was singled out for elimination. 

Whether this killing was ordered by commanding officers, or whether it was the whim of an Israeli sniper, I cannot answer. Israelis shoot so many Palestinians with impunity. My guess is, the sniper knew he or she could kill Abu Akleh, and never face any consequences. The shooting, Al Jazeera said in a statement, was “A blatant murder violating international laws and norms.”

“Abu Akleh” the network added, was “assassinated in cold blood.” Abu Akleh, who was 51 and a Palestinian American, was a familiar and trusted presence on television screens throughout the region, revered for her courage and integrity, and beloved for her careful and sensitive reporting on the intricacies of daily life under occupation. Her reporting from the occupied territories routinely punctured Israeli narratives, and exposed Israeli abuses and crimes, making her the bête noire of the Israeli government. It is very hard to believe she was not a deliberate target.

Joining me to discuss the murder of Abu Akleh, and the refusal by the Biden administration to hold Israel accountable for the killing, is Kavitha Chekuru, a senior producer for the Al Jazeera show Fault Lines that produced the investigative report titled The Killing of Shireen Abu Akleh.

Kavitha, this is a wonderful report. It’s on YouTube, everyone should watch it. You did a tremendous job piecing together the narrative of what happened. I want you to begin at the beginning, and one of the reasons that we were able to determine what happened, is because we have video footage of it — From phones, and everything else, and cameras — That we don’t have for most Palestinians.

And then as you go forward, I wondered if you could lay out the Israeli response, and how it’s typical of Israel, in terms of first attempting to blame the victim, and how that shifted? But talk about the initial report coming in that she was shot, what you knew, and then what happened, and then we’ll get into your investigation.

Kavitha Chekuru:  Sure. That day, May 11, the crew was in Jenin, which is a city in the Northern West Bank. In the weeks preceding that, there had been a series of increasing Israeli military raids. Shireen and her colleagues, as well as other journalists, had been covering them, and that day was no exception.

Shireen and everyone there, are experienced journalists. They know how to cover conflict and they know how to cover this conflict, in particular. When they got news of the raid, Ali Al-Samudi – A producer and journalist based in Jenin, who worked with Shireen for two decades – He called her and told her what was going on: that the raid had begun. So she and the Al Jazeera crew left their hotel. They met up with Ali, as well as other journalists that were there already, and they waited. They had their helmets on, their press jackets, and they waited to make sure it was safe. 

They were away from the fighting itself. When they initially looked at the scene, they were a few blocks away from where they could see an Israeli convoy. In other footage that’s come up from civilians on the ground and from the Israeli military themselves – They put out body camera footage later on, and I’ll talk about that. It’s part of their response as well – But I mentioned the footage, because it shows you where they were, which will become important as well in the Israeli military response.

What they saw was a convoy of five Israeli military vehicles, about 650ft or 200m away. They waited, there were no shots, it seemed like it was calm. As the survivors of the incident told us, when they deemed it to be safe, they started walking very slowly. They all had on their press jackets, again, saying, “Press.”

I will say that when we went to Jenin –To the spot where this happened – If you look from the spot where the convoy was, down the road to where the journalists were, you wouldn’t even need a telescopic rifle to see. This was a very short distance. It was visible to us with our naked eye, people at that distance. When you’re looking through a telescope, it’s going to be even closer, even more obvious, than what they’re looking at.

They start to walk, and all of a sudden, shots start firing. They turned, Ali was hit. The Al Jazeera cameraman immediately started to record. He was a bit of a distance away from the others. That footage in particular became very crucial, because one, it gave us the number of shots fired. But it also really gave us… I mean, it’s horrible footage; it’s Shireen on the ground, and you see the way the shots continued even after that, particularly as her colleagues and civilians tried to help her.

Chris Hedges:  Well, I just want to interrupt. Because in the film, every time somebody approached her – And she’s prone face down on the ground – They’re fired at.

Kavitha Chekuru:  Exactly. Exactly. It becomes a bit hard to think this was just being caught in crossfire, when any time someone tries to help her, they’re targeted again. Eventually, they were able to get her body away, they went to the hospital, and she was pronounced dead. One of the things I should point out is that – If your viewers and listeners aren’t aware – Shireen Abu Akleh was a household name in the Middle East; she was very well known. She had been covering Palestine for Al Jazeera since 1997. This was a shock for us to hear this person had been killed.

There was a very quick response from the military. They said, well, there was fighting going on. It could have been Palestinian fighters that killed her. They quickly released a video. Actually, there were two videos. One was a video they had taken from fighters themselves that they had released – At a location in Jenin where they had been shooting from – Saying that this could be where the fight or the killers were. Then they released video themselves: body camera footage showed their own location and the configuration of the convoy. This was within just a few hours of the shooting itself.

Again, the footage from all parties involved becomes so important when you’re trying to dissect everything that’s happening. That footage they had taken from Palestinian fighters saying, this is the location of the fighters, B’Tselem – Which is an Israeli human rights group – Very quickly sent one of their researchers to that exact site and showed that it was not possible for those fighters in that location, or any of the Palestinian fighters that day who had been more inside Jenin. There was no clean shot, essentially. It was very windy. It would’ve had to be a magic bullet for it to have been Palestinian fighters, is what I’m saying.

You see this a lot when the Israeli military is accused of killing civilians, of killing Palestinians. This is a pretty tried and true strategy: cast out, let the doubt spread, and then it filters into the press even. But it was impossible to do that in this case, particularly because of the video footage that was available from the Al Jazeera camera person, as well as another civilian who had been filming on his cell phone right before the shooting started.

Chris Hedges:  The Israeli narrative mutates, that’s also not uncommon. Talk a bit about its mutation. How, as facts come out, the Israelis respond.

Kavitha Chekuru:  Yeah. The first response was to say that it might’ve been Palestinians, and then it’s a little bit of a step back. It’s like, well, maybe it was, but maybe not. We don’t know. And then it’s like, well we need to see, because it could have been us, but we don’t know yet. There’s the waiting game, essentially. As that waiting game goes on, in the meantime, various investigations come out from respective news outlets: from the EBP to CNN, the New York Times, The Washington Post, as well as human rights groups like B’Tselem. The United Nations did their own investigation. All of them said it was likely that it came from Israel, but it was the Israeli military that shot her.

Finally, it was in September that the Israeli military put out their final conclusion, because they said that they were conducting an investigation. And their investigation said that, yes, they may have shot her, but that it’s because she got caught in crossfire. The problem is that it’s disputed by witness testimony, and that again, video footage is available. But there haven’t been any consequences. Yeah. They said-

Chris Hedges:  Let’s talk about the US response. Shireen was a US citizen, and it’s very telling of the collusion between Israel and Washington, the Biden administration. Talk about the US response, US promises, and investigation. Go into what happened.

Kavitha Chekuru:  Yeah. Very quickly, the US was asked about what they were going to do. Like you pointed out, she was an American citizen. At first they said, well we want all the facts. We deplore this, this is awful. The things that they normally say. In June, Secretary of State Blinken said that he wanted a thorough and independent – And that’s the keyword here, independent – Investigation into her killing, so that they can know the facts. The independence is really the key here.

There’s a US office in Israel and Palestine called the US Security Coordinator. Essentially it’s run between the State Department, and the DOD. They were responsible for looking into the killing, initially. They were already starting to go along with the Israeli conclusion by that point, not the Palestinian conclusion, the Israeli conclusion. That’s lying. She was killed by the Israeli military, but it was a crossfire. They were leaning on the crossfire to say it was an accident. In the aftermath, they’ve really stuck to that. One of the things that they’ve also said is that, well, they want to make sure that this never happens again.

So then the question becomes, how do you make sure that this doesn’t happen again? There has to be accountability. But the problem is that you need to have real investigations with real consequences. Otherwise, what you end up with is impunity. That’s what’s happening here, because the US is going along with the Israeli lie. It opens the door to this continuing on. Because if there are no consequences in the killing of a US citizen, a renowned journalist, then what does that mean just for Palestinian civilians?

Chris Hedges:  Let’s talk about the bullet, because the Palestinians have the bullet that was extracted from Shireen’s body. The Israelis say they cannot have a conclusive investigation unless they are provided with the bullet. For obvious reasons, the Palestinian Authority is very reticent to give the bullet to the Israelis. And then the Americans step in. Can you speak about what happened?

Kavitha Chekuru:  Yeah. The US security coordinator did say that they did a forensic analysis of the bullet, but that it was inconclusive.

Chris Hedges:  Well, the US promised an independent investigation if they were provided with the bullet. The bullet was provided to the US and then what happened?

Kavitha Chekuru:  The US was provided with the bullet. They did analyze it, and they said that it was inconclusive. But there’s been no independent investigation. However, in November, the news broke that the FBI was going to investigate. Now, there’s not a lot of facts surrounding that though, I will point out. It came out more than 6 months after she was killed. By that point the US had made clear what their stance was on this killing and the idea of investigation, which was there wasn’t going to be an independent investigation run by the US. That was off the table. When it comes to the DOJ and the FBI, their investigations are supposed to be independent of the administration.

There’s not a lot of facts about when this investigation is happening, or if it has already happened, for instance. What we do know though is that Israel isn’t going to cooperate. The Israeli government made that clear. This was the previous government, which is not as right-wing as the current one. I think it’s pretty safe to say that the current one is not going to be cooperating either.

Chris Hedges:  Talk about her funeral.

Kavitha Chekuru:  Her funeral?  I will say, I wasn’t there. I was watching it as a spectator from the States. There had been a state funeral first in Ramallah on May 12, the day before. And then on May 13, they brought her body to Jerusalem to be laid to rest in a Christian cemetery in the old city. And thousands of Palestines had come out to mourn her. This footage was being broadcast live, the whole procession on Al Jazeera English, and Al Jazeera. As soon as they brought the coffin out of the morgue and they started to leave the gates of the hospital to begin the rest of the procession, they were attacked by Israeli security forces in Jerusalem.

It’s shocking. Shocking footage of the way that the security forces attacked these mourners who were carrying the coffin. What her brother told us when we spoke to him was it felt like they were trying to make the mourners drop the coffin.

Chris Hedges:  Well, then the coffin almost falls to the ground.

Kavitha Chekuru:  Yeah. The mourners made sure to keep it up while they were being beaten. In the footage, you can see them ripping away the Palestinian flag. If people have not watched that footage, I would encourage them to watch it.

Chris Hedges:  What do you think the message that Israel intended to impart with the killing, and with the response to the killing? What were they saying, in particular, to the Palestinians?

Kavitha Chekuru:  It’s interesting when you think about when journalists are killed in a situation when it’s not a traditional, or typical war. We’re not talking about Ukraine. This may seem a little bit crazy, but earlier in the year I was covering the killings of journalists in Mexico. I think there’s a commonality when you look at why journalists are targeted in these non-traditional conflicts. People don’t want certain things to be known. They don’t want journalists there to document the truth, and I think that’s the case here. We asked that question to the journalists that were there on the day of the shooting and who had been shot at as well. They said the same thing that they think the Israeli government doesn’t want what is happening in the occupied territories to come out, because the situation is getting worse. More Palestinians were killed in the occupied West Bank last year than any year since, I think, 2004, 2005.

Chris Hedges:  When you carried out this investigation, what surprised you the most?

Kavitha Chekuru:  The US, they have a tendency – It’s not like this is new – But the way that they are ignoring the very clear facts of what happened. This idea that they have continued to say she was caught in crossfire is a blatant lie. There’s footage that shows that’s not true. It’s that audacity to continue to lie when we’re talking about the killing of a US citizen. That might have been something that stuck with me.

Chris Hedges:  Netanyahu’s new government is even more extreme than the old government. And neo-fascist probably isn’t too far from, certainly what many elements of that government is comprised of. It’s a coalition government with the most extreme figures in the Israeli political establishment, many heirs of the terrorist Rabbi Meir Kahane. Where do you see this going? What’s going to happen now?

Kavitha Chekuru:  It’s a good question. To be blunt, nowhere good. If we’re talking about what it means for Palestinians, in particular, we’ve seen there’s actually been a lot of protests by Israeli citizens themselves against this new government already.

Chris Hedges:  Yeah. But mostly around judicial reform, if I have that correct, not about the occupation.

Kavitha Chekuru:  No. But if we’re talking specifically for Palestinians, there’s nothing good. The government has even made it very, very clear from day one that this is going to be the most extreme Israeli government in recent memory, and that they regard Palestinian land as Israeli land. Even looking at the way settlers have been acting in the past couple of weeks, in particular, you can see that emboldenment. So it’s even more important that journalists are able to do their job in occupied territories.

Chris Hedges:  Where are we going? I think Al Jazeera wants to bring this before the International Criminal Court, if I have that correct? They don’t want to let it drop.

Kavitha Chekuru:  Yeah. I should say, I don’t want to speak as a representative for Al Jazeera in that way, because it’s a legal case, and I don’t think I’m really qualified to do that.

Chris Hedges:  But they are seeking redress in international forums. Maybe you can at least explain that.

Kavitha Chekuru:  Yeah. They did bring a petition to the ICC at the beginning of December. There has been a wider petition from Palestine human rights groups and lawyers in regards to the Israeli occupation, and for the ICC to investigate. I would say this is one part of that. Getting accountability in any situation where it’s a Palestinian killed by the Israeli military, very rarely is there justice. I hope that’s not the case here, but if you look at the past, it tells you that it’s very difficult to achieve.

Chris Hedges:  Great. That was Kavitha Chekuru, the producer of The Killing of Shireen Abu Akleh on Al Jazeera, which can be found on YouTube. I want to thank The Real News Network and its production team: Cameron Granadino, Adam Coley, David Hebden, Darian Jones, and Kayla Rivara. You can find me at

World News

Australian National Review – Putin’s Response To WSJ’s Ann Simmons When Asked If He Wants To Rule The World





Putin’s Response to WSJ’s Ann Simmons When Asked If He Wants to Rule the World

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Vladimir Putin’s annual news conference


The President’s news conference was broadcast live by Rossiya 1, Rossiya 24, Channel One and NTV, as well as Mayak, Vesti FM and Radio Rossii radio stations.

Television channel Public Television of Russia (OTR) and its site ( provided live sign language interpretation of the news conference.

The host broadcaster of the event is the National State Television and Radio Broadcasting Company (VGTRK).

* * *

President of Russia Vladimir Putin: Good afternoon, colleagues, friends.

Let us begin our traditional end-of-year meeting that we call a news conference.

As always, I will spend just a few brief seconds to sum up the results of the outgoing year. A lot has been said already, but I have the latest data reflecting the most recent results, some just a couple of days old.

Before the beginning of Vladimir Putin’s annual news conference.

In the first nine months of 2018, GDP increased by 1.7 percent, while the Economic Development Ministry expects the annual increase to total 1.8 percent. Industrial output was growing at a faster pace, totalling 2.9 percent in the first ten months of 2018, with the annual results expected at 3 percent, up from a 2.1 percent growth in 2017. In addition, processing industries have been growing at a somewhat faster pace of 3.2 percent.

In the first three quarters fixed capital investment increased by 4.1 percent. Cargo shipments and retail trade are on the rise, having increased by 2.6 percent. Consumer demand growth has been apparent. This is a positive factor. After a lengthy interval, the population’s real income has shown some, albeit very moderate, growth. According to the latest statistics, real incomes will increase by 0.5 percent. I hope that this momentum will be maintained, since real pay levels are on the rise, having grown by 7.4 percent in the first nine months, which is expected to give us 6.9 or 7 percent by the end of the year.

Inflation remains at an acceptable level, although it has increased a little in the past week, by 0.5 percent, I think. Therefore, we will be able to reach the Central Bank’s reference rate of 4 percent and will have an inflation rate of 4.1 percent to 4.2 percent – somewhere just over 4 percent.

The unemployment rate is going down, which is good news. If last year it hit a historical low of 5.2 percent, this year it will be even lower – 4.8 percent.

The trade balance surplus is growing. In 2017, if you remember, it was around $115 billion. Over the three quarters of this year we already achieved $157 million. As of the end of the year, we expect it to reach $190 billion.

Our finances are growing stronger. Our gold and foreign currency reserves have grown by over 7 percent. In the early 2018, they amounted to $432 billion while now they stand at almost $464 billion.

For the first time since 2011, we will have a budget surplus. We are about to reach the federal budget surplus of 2.1 percent of the GDP. The National Welfare Fund has grown by around 22 percent.

The average annual insurance component of the retirement pension stood at 13,677 rubles in 2017. By the end of this year, it will be 14,163 rubles.

Life expectancy has also increased slightly compared to 2017, from 72.7 to 72.9 years.

These are the general results that I wanted to mention in the beginning. Let’s not waste our time and proceed to your questions and my attempts to answer them.

Presidential Press Secretary Dmitry Peskov: Let us begin by giving some priority to the Kremlin pool. Its members worked with us throughout the year, following the President both in Russia and abroad.

ITAR-TASS, the state news agency.

Veronika Romanenkova: Thank you.

The year 2018 arguably went by under the sign of new national projects that you launched with the May Executive Order. They are expected to cost an enormous amount of money. However, some experts, members of the State Council, as was mentioned in Yalta only recently, have questioned the feasibility of these national projects and whether they are needed. How well thought out are the performance assessment criteria for the national projects? For example, the Accounts Chamber Chairman said that there is no way to assess their effectiveness. What can you say to counter this?

Before the beginning of Vladimir Putin’s annual news conference.

Vladimir Putin: I will have to begin by saying a few words on whether these projects are needed, since you said that some question this.

I have said it on numerous occasions, and I will repeat it today. We need a breakthrough. We need to transition to a new technological paradigm. Without it, the country has no future. This is a matter of principle, and we have to be clear on this.

How can this be done? We need to focus the available resources, find and channel them to the essential development initiatives. How can these efforts be organised? By simply distributing money, and that’s it?

First, we had to find this money. It took us the entire year 2017 to articulate the objectives and find the resources. Both the Government and the Presidential Executive Office contributed to this effort. By the way, when some call for more changes within the Cabinet, we have to understand that it was the Government’s financial and economic block that developed the national development programme to 2024. For this reason, they are the ones who must take responsibility for the plans they made. There is no way around it.

So how should this effort be organised? By simply distributing money? After all, as much as 20.8 trillion rubles are expected to go into the national projects alone, and another 6.5 trillion will be invested in a separate infrastructure development plan. Of course, the allocation of these resources has to be set forth in documents of some kind on achieving breakthroughs. You can refer to these development plans any way you wish. We call them national projects. After all, it makes it clear that there are goals that have to be achieved. If there are no objectives, you will never achieve the final outcome, no matter how you manage these investments. It is for this reason that the 12 national projects were developed alongside an infrastructure development plan. Let me remind you of the main vectors.

Healthcare, education, research and human capital come first, since without them there is no way a breakthrough can be achieved. The second vector deals with manufacturing and the economy. Of course, everything is related to the economy, including the first part. But the second part is directly linked to the economy, since it deals with the digital economy, robotics, etc. I have already mentioned infrastructure.

Why did we have this meeting in Yalta, Crimea, to discuss with our colleagues from the Government and the regions how we will proceed in these efforts? Because there are questions on how to assess performance under these projects. We need effective controls, while making sure that all efforts by the federal centre to monitor what is happening in the regions are effective. It is true that there are challenges in this regard, but we are working on them. So what is the tricky part? The tricky part is that funding mostly comes from the federal centre, and this applies to all programmes, while most of the efforts are undertaken in the regions. The regions must be ready to work constructively. Instead of simply hiking up prices in response to an increase in the available funds, they must focus on achieving concrete results that will be clearly visible. This is the first point I wanted to make.

Second, we need to understand whether they will be able to succeed. This is a real question. Some argue that this would be impossible. But this is what we hear from those who must deliver. Instead of having these thoughts they need to work on delivering on these objectives, and if they feel that they are unable to do so, they have to clear the way for those who are positive about their ability to deliver and are ready to work. To tell you the truth, I have not seen anyone who did not want to do it or said that it was impossible. These messages come from outside observers.

Without ambitious goals we will never achieve anything. For this reason, I do hope that the federal centre and the regions will be able to work together in a consolidated and positive manner. Yes, some indicators have to be adjusted. Our colleagues from the regions have submitted their proposals to this effect, and I have high hopes that the Government will take them into consideration and adjust specific indicators so that we can move forward effectively…

Before the beginning of Vladimir Putin’s annual news conference.

Pavel Zarubin: Rossiya TV channel.

I would like to expand on a topic that has already been raised. Many economics experts, including Alexei Kudrin, assert that in reality, the Russian economy has been growing just by one percent on average over the past ten years, and if so, this is essentially marking time, or stagnation. You set the goal of making a breakthrough, a leap, but for this, even if we take the lowest estimate, the growth rate should be at least four to five times higher. The Government promises to achieve the goal, but that same Government acknowledges that in the next few years, GDP growth rates will not exceed even 2 percent. In this regard, here are my questions: what does the Government rely on in its forecasts, in the planning of its work? Is a breakthrough possible at all, in this context, or will the economy continue operating like this: we make some money on oil surplus, put it aside, then spend it when there is a need for it? In general, are you satisfied with the Medvedev team?

Dmitry Peskov: Friends, I would ask you please to respect each other – ask only one question each.

Vladimir Putin: Look, economic growth has been one percent per year for a certain period of time. But, first of all, it was while Mr Kudrin was Deputy Prime Minister, so you must not blame the mirror for showing a crooked face, as they say. This is the first point.

The second is, one should not just count mechanically. I have great respect for Mr Kudrin, he is my friend and a good professional, and as a rule, I listen to his recommendations. He is a reliable specialist, a good one. But look, from 2008 to 2018, the economy grew by about 7.4 percent. In simple maths – yes, it equals one percent, a little more. However, let us not forget how the economy developed. There were higher growth rates, alternating with recessions associated with the global crisis. In 2009, after the crisis in the global economy, not in ours – Russia was not the cause of the global financial crisis of 2008–2009, it came to us from the outside – the decline was about 7.8 percent. Then little by little, we were crawling out of it for many years.

Then, in 2014–2015, another meltdown occurred – a collapse in the oil prices, our main exports. That is why I am saying we should not simply count mechanically.

However, of course, the country’s GDP, the GDP growth rate is one of the main indicators. But we will not be able to achieve the GDP growth rates necessary for this breakthrough unless the structure of the economy is changed. This is what the national projects are aimed at, and why such enormous funds will be invested, which I have already said – to change the structure and build an innovation-based economy. The Government is counting on this, because if this happens, and we should all work towards this, then the growth rates will increase and there will be other opportunities for development.

By the way, you mentioned the projected 2 percent growth for the next two years. Yes, in the next years, 2019–2020, two percent each, but from 2021, the Government is already planning 3 percent, and then more. Therefore, I strongly hope that we will manage to do all this. Some fluctuations are probably possible, but, I repeat, the most important thing is that we need… Do you see what we need to do? We need to join another league of economies, and not only in terms of volumes. I think that taking the fifth place in terms of volume is quite possible. We used to rank fifth in terms of the economy, in purchasing power parity, and we will do it again, I think. However, we need to ascend to another league in terms of the quality of the economy. This is what our national projects are aimed at.

Pavel Zarubin: Are you satisfied with the Medvedev team?

Vladimir Putin: Overall, yes.

Question: Good afternoon.

Mr President, in my city of Volgograd we had a wonderful year. We celebrated the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Stalingrad. You made it a federal holiday and we really appreciate it. You also paid us a visit.

Vladimir Putin’s annual news conference.

We successfully hosted the World Cup and our region indeed began to breathe and develop.

There is a lot that still needs to be done. I think the economy will be extensively discussed. But Volgograd residents have a big wish and a great favour to ask. In 1998, the Kacha Higher Military Aviation School of Pilots, which had a very long history, was shut down.

It was established at the Tsar’s decree in 1910 and we were truly proud of it and want to be proud of it further. We want the military traditions to live on. Please consider re-opening it.

Vladimir Putin: In which year was it shut down?

Remark: In 1998, unfortunately. It had the Order of the Red Banner and a long history.

Vladimir Putin: You see, it is already 2018. It happened 20 years ago and I do not quite know what is left of this legendary school.

You are right, it was indeed a legendary school. But the Russian Defence Ministry plans personnel training resources based on whether there is a demand for specific types of personnel in the Armed Forces.

Therefore, we need to look at what can be done not only to remember it but perhaps to preserve the remaining traditions. I will make sure to look into this and consult with the Defence Ministry.

Maria Balyuk: Mr President, good afternoon. My name is Maria Balyuk, I represent the Prime news agency.

Mr President, the budget in the current year and the next year will have a surplus. However, starting January 1, a number of decisions are coming into effect that may cause a significant increase in prices of a wide range of goods and services.

For example, the VAT will increase to 20 percent, which has already triggered a two-stage increase in the housing and utilities rates next year. There is also the new tax for self-employed persons in pilot regions. Please tell us how these measures agree with the state’s economic policy.

Vladimir Putin: Housing and utilities rates in two stages, and what else?

Maria Balyuk: And, for example, a tax on self-employed people in pilot regions.

Isn’t this amount of new measures too much of a burden on Russians and the economy?

Vladimir Putin: You said about the surplus.

Yes, this is indeed a good indicator of the Government’s economic block performance. As I said in my opening remarks, for the first time since 2011 we will have a budget surplus of 2.1 percent. And this is good.

Let us not forget that as an oil producing country and a country that derives much of its revenue from selling oil and gas, we also have what is called a non-oil-and-gas deficit. This is what the country earns from selling products and services other than oil and gas.

Let me remind you that this non-oil-and-gas deficit was 13 percent in 2009, which is a lot. In the early 2000s, it was at about 3 percent, but the global economic crisis forced us to use our oil revenues to meet our social commitments and finance the Armed Forces, so we had to tap into the oil revenues.

Vladimir Putin’s annual news conference before the beginning of Vladimir Putin’s annual news conference.

In this situation, the non-oil-and-gas deficit surged into the double digits almost reaching13 percent, I believe. This was a very serious challenge for the Russian economy. We have now reduced it to 6.6 percent, and next year it is expected to decline to 6 percent and remain at this level for the next few years.

This is a very important indicator of economic resilience for the Russian Federation. Therefore, the increase in the VAT rate, among other things, is due to the need to maintain the non-oil-and-gas deficit at a certain level.

Second, in many countries VAT is 20 percent or even higher. It used to be higher in Russia as well, but we reduced it at a certain point. Now we have returned to a 20-percent tax rate.

However, the effective VAT rate for the overall economy will be below 20 percent since almost all benefits remain in place: for pharmaceuticals, children’s goods, and so on, including for IT companies. Many benefits have been preserved. With this in mind, the effective rate will be actually lower.

Finally, I do hope that the rate hike will be only a one-off measure with a possible slight increase in prices and inflation in the beginning of the year, after which the inflation will go down.

The Central Bank also seeks to prevent inflation from picking up. Only recently, the interest rate was increased by 0.25 percentage points.

While there are definitely both benefits and disadvantages to this decision, all this is done in order to prevent inflation and prices from growing. For this reason, I believe that the overall decision was correct and balanced, creating additional budget revenue and the possibility to deliver on our development plans as part of the national projects.

As for increases in housing and utilities tariffs, over the past years they grew by about 4 percent per year. It is true that next year there will be two hikes: the first one will be at about 1.7 percent, and the second one I think will be about 2.4 percent, but in total this still makes up 4.1 percent.

Why will the increase be spread out in two stages? The reason is that with a higher VAT, prices of some goods and services are expected to increase, and we need to make sure that the utilities sector does not come under stress.

For this reason, in order to shield companies in this sector from these developments and ultimately in the interests of the people, we decided to proceed in two stages. That said, the overall increase should not exceed 4.1 percent.

In some regions, where the utilities infrastructure requires major upgrades and bigger hikes are required, this can be done as an exception, and subject to federal Government approval.

Yekaterina Gagarina: Good afternoon, Mr President. My name is Yekaterina Gagarina. I represent the Rossiya TV channel in Novosibirsk.

The importance of the Akademgorodok 2.0 [Academic Town] project that you supported during your visit to Novosibirsk is obvious not only to Siberian scientists. This project is unique for the entire country.

But behind the technological component of this project there are a number of tasks of a similarly large scale. They include building housing, roads, kindergartens and schools. My question is what if our scientific ambitions crash at daily living problems? Will the scientists have somewhere to live?

Vladimir Putin: I would not want them to crash.

I understand that it is a very important part of the entire process. Of course, we will be working on this with the regional officials. When I visited Novosibirsk, I also spoke about this with my colleagues.

The first objective of the federal government is to honour its obligations related to the facilities which trigger the development of Akademgorodok – which, by the way, is the opportunity to earn money on these high technologies. The social component will definitely be carried out after this.

But if any additional action is required to resolve the scientists’ social issues, of course, we will try to do it. By the way, the mortgage sector has been growing lately. We will support it as well. It is growing very fast for everybody. The growth of the mortgage sector stands at over 20 per cent.

Vladimir Putin’s annual news conference before the beginning of Vladimir Putin’s annual news conference.

Full transcript 


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