translated by VG and edited by EG for the Saker blog
By way of foreword, I want to point out how much attention the Deputy Prime Minister pays to the issues of coherence and mutual understanding of all employees of the state agencies working towards a single goal – the prosperity of the people of Russia. Despite the devastation that the collapse of the Soviet Union brought, despite the unjustified sanctions of the United States and its Western acolytes, Russia has risen like a Phoenix from the ashes over the past two decades. I would like the US politicians and statesmen to put aside mutual reproaches and meaningless accusations and focus on solving the country’s economic and social problems. Squabbles and quarrels of politicians affect the morale of the people. The confrontation of politicians divides people; disbelief or complete apathy grip the society. It shouldn’t be like this. After all, we are one people; nobody except us can build the present and future of our country.
Vladimir Solovyov in his TV show April 9, 2020 spoke with Deputy Prime Minister of the Russian Federation Viktoriya Abramchenko. Here is his full transcript:
V. S. – In the middle of March, Russia experienced high demand for certain types of products. People succumbed to the panic mood associated with the coronavirus, bought buckwheat, rice and other grains. There are no pseudo-empty shelves in stores today. The situation is stable. The Ministry of Industry and Trade informs that we have created a food supply for two months. It is constantly replenished. But there are other issues that have been complicated by the epidemic: the beginning of planting season, support for farmers, the needs of the Agro-industrial complex (AIC). Viruses cannot change the Doctrine of food secuRussia SITREP:rity. This evening in the Studio is the Deputy Prime Minister of the Russian Federation Viktoriya Abramchenko.
V.S. Victoria Valeryevna, when was the last time you slept?
V. A. – A Good question. The government is now working really intensively to ensure that our citizens have food.
V. S. – So, you rarely manage to go home?
V. A. – I follow all recommendations. The family is isolated. Accordingly, I come home quite late, and only see my child on Sundays.
V. S. – This is not the usual mode of work, that is, I don’t remember the government working at such a pace at all. The main thing is that there should be such mutual understanding and cooperation, when the Deputy Prime Ministers, who ostensibly working in parallel areas, should put aside all possible bureaucratic friction and resolve issues directly, when the Ministers no longer have to wait long for the Deputy Prime Minister to listen to them. When all the issues must be solved within hours, not days, as it used to be. When papers don’t walk, but fly at such a speed that they don’t seem to be papers anymore. When several hours pass from the moment of making a decision to the release of regulatory documentation, instead of days, weeks or months, as it was before. All this in order to solve pressing problems.
Recently we encountered that bizarre problem of excessive demand at the beginning of March. How was it solved?
V. A. – Indeed, we had two days in March, March 14, 15, when there was a rush of demand, primarily for groceries. It included grains, buckwheat, first of all, as well as pasta and canned meat. This happened because the people moved from large metropolitan areas to their dacha (summer house) to sit out the first week, to self-isolate. And bought up virtually all of these products. During this period…
V. S. – Which happened in stores at the time…?
V. A. – Absolutely. During this time, you immediately started monitoring. We had several goals:
First, we needed to make sure that there was necessary supply of food in retail chains, so that this supply would be in distribution centers and so that our producers, who provide food, distribution centers and eventually retail chains, would be ready for the increased demand for certain products. And we did that. Next, there was the problem of monitoring prices.
V. S. – You say that you did it. How was it done? After all, it was necessary to call the cities…?
V. A. – Absolutely.
V.S. – To allow heavy trucks to run during the day, and not just at night? That is, the Deputy Prime Minister had to delve into the question of how, who and where packs sugar?
V. A. – We didn’t think about positions and we don’t think today, we do the job as a team.
V. S. – Using the example of sugar, what did it lead to?
V.A. – This has led to the stabilization of supplies, which kept the prices down. We came to an agreement with the Ministry of Agriculture. I want to thank our manufacturers. They have a very socially responsible position. To ensure that the selling price of sugar does not exceed 30 rubles (for 1 kg) and today we fix the price lower in relation to April 2019. It was sold in retail for 46 rubles per kg in April 2019, today it is sold for 35.
V. S. – But at the same time, as people always say, this is nice and good. How about the other product groups, the rest of the products? Here now is my friend is talking about ginger and lemon. Famous Russian folk ginger and lemon. Because someone thought they were supposed to help against the coronavirus. I’m waiting when you get to oregano and Rugby. And do you even care when something happens with ginger and lemon? Do you have to keep track of everything?
V. A. – Indeed, we have been tracking the growth of demand for ginger recently. I don’t know what this is about. There are some online claims of people that this somehow affects the fight against infection, viral diseases…
V. S. – And the doctors don’t know?
V. A. – We know the opinion of experts on this issue, but we are recording a really high demand. Increased demand leads to a spike of prices for this group of products. Here it is important to note that we in the Russian Federation do not grow any lemons or ginger. This is the product group that we import. Given the fact that the ruble has weakened over the past two months, we are buying it for a currency, and it costs different amount of money.
V. S. – How much does this affect the consumer basket?
V. A.- They do not affect. Neither lemons nor ginger are included in the consumer basket. We can definitely reassure all Russians that ginger and lemons will be on the shelves in retail chains. It is important now that there is no excessive demand, so that the price of these products does not increase.
V. S. – What are the main products that Russians consume? After all, it so happened that we always imported. As long as I can remember, even in Soviet times, there were all these nasty jokes, the “Voice of America”, the “Bush thighs”, when we did not have our own production, when we could talk about Vologodskoe butter (high quality Russian butter), but in fact everything and everyone knew that when he bought meat, we could only hope that it was not cut together with a loaf of bread. Since 2014, when the sanctions were imposed, it became clear that this was a very positive thing. Our food security reached a completely different level today.
V.A.- We have The Food Security Doctrine and the provisions of the Doctrine have been revised this year. There are new indicators. According to the Doctrine, I can report confidently that the domestic production of the main group of foodstuffs included in the consumer basket has exceeded our goals, since the Western sanctions were imposed. As far as meat is concerned, we exceeded the goals by 12%. This includes beef, pork, and poultry.
V. S. – Are we fully provided for now?
V. A. – Absolutely. We are fully self-sufficient in fat and butter products, in vegetable oil. We are fully self-sufficient in grain, and we are fully self-sufficient in sugar. There are slightly behind in salt, but there is no shortage of salt in our country. If there arises a need to deliver the required amount, we would do it.
V. S. – So, there is no threat of starvation?
V. A. – Absolutely none.
V. A. -.This was also done. In Moscow, to give an example, we agreed with 180 manufacturers directly, excluding distribution centers, that these producers should deliver food directly to shopping centers. We even solved the problem with sugar, when there was not enough time to pack sugar from bags of 50 kg in a kilogram package, and this was also done.
V. S. – If there is bread, there is a song.
V. A.- Vladimir, there is another positive news: on March 25, Mikhail Mishustin (the Prime Minister of the Russian Federation) signed the agreements to export beef to the People’s Republic of China, and on April 7 first eight containers of our Russian beef were delivered to the Chinese market. This is also due to the implementation of the Food Security Doctrine. We are able to feed ourselves and are now ready for export.
V.S – That is, we will earn currency?
V. A. – Absolutely.
V. S. – In this case, the yuan. We can feed ourselves. That’s good. Are the people in this market socially responsible? Is there a longing to agree to play on the increased demand, and enter into a cartel?
V. A.- Just in March, when we recorded an increased demand for the groceries, the traditional product that Russians love and buy at times when there is some instability is buckwheat.
V. S. – I can never understand it. I myself love buckwheat, but I can never understand why buckwheat is treated as an absolute strategic reserve? I don’t know.
V. A. – Still, we have enough buckwheat. I would like to take this opportunity to say that the Altai territory has 360,000 tons of reserves. And that’s in the Altai territory alone. So, we have sufficient reserves for this agricultural year, which ends in June.
V. S. – Were there those who wanted to play on high demand?
V. A.- Yes, we have fixed this situation, this dishonest behavior in the food market. We engaged with the Federal Antimonopoly Service (FAS) in this situation, which specifically deals with cartel agreements in the markets, as you said.
V. S. – I talked this morning with farmers, young girls – they are great –they decided to take up farming near Moscow. I talked to the guys who produce turkey. All of them said they feel social responsibility, and won’t raise prices. We will not raise prices! We will keep the prices down. Is there any hope that the Russian consumer basket will remain within the limits of the prices that we are used to and consider fair?
V. A.- It’s not just hope. We are working on it. And we are constantly monitoring the situation on the regular basis. But I want to warn you that the agriculture depends on some imported goods. For example, veterinary drugs, we import them in large quantities. Thus, the currency component in the final prices of the Agro-industrial complex will be present. But what does the government do in this regard? We are providing additional support for the agricultural sector and are currently working on the support measures for the new agricultural year. We will finish this sowing campaign, which, by the way, is proceeding at an increased pace compared to the previous year.
V. S. – So, the pandemic doesn’t bother us?
V. A. – Does not interfere absolutely.
V. S. – Does the agricultural sector work full blast?
V. A. – The growers are working steadily. The sowing is done on about 4 million hectares. This is almost 3 times more than at this day in 2019. The warm weather played into our hands, and I hope we will continue to move at this pace. So, next agricultural year, we will provide additional support, to prevent the impact of the weak ruble, so that the consumer does not feel an increase in prices.
V.S. – But on the other hand, a weak ruble is good for those who work for export.
V. A.- Yes.
V. S. – This means that we have more and more opportunities. The country is fed; now we can earn currency for the Motherland?
V. A. My colleagues and I in the Ministry of Agriculture and the Foreign Ministry are working in this area. There is a separate national project, the international export cooperation, and it works on a target that the President once set for us to increase the export of agricultural products by 2024 to 45 billion dollars a year.
V. S. – How much do we export now?
V. A. – Now about 28 billion rubles.
V.S. – That is, almost 70%?
V. A. – Yes. We work in this direction by the product groups; as I have already said, this is the meat group; this is fish; this is butter and fat products and, surprisingly and gratifyingly, our confectionery products. In other words, Russian sweets are in demand in Russia and abroad.
V. S. – So, I’m not the only one who eats them?
V. A. – No, you are not.
V. S. – I am listen to you and I disagree. No offense. I remember when you headed a very, very complex structure – the Federal Register. When you took it over, it was a mess. Just a mess. And you made it perfect. Well, now you have moved on. However, you have no experience in the Ministry of Agriculture and you are telling me: “We are working on it, We will do it now…” You mention for example “fish”, but I understand how there was a tangle from the 90’s of the most difficult, unresolved issues. I understand how when the fish was caught, there was a problem where to go with it, because we did not have the infrastructure, and now we cannot go to Norway. It’s not easy in the Far East, either. It turns out that you have the same Augeas stables to clean. You’d have to start working the regulatory guillotine essentially in the war conditions, i.e. – the fight against the coronavirus. This will be a great confrontation. There are someone’s interests at stake everywhere; everything is so cunningly designed. You are talking about agriculture. Yes, on the one hand, it is necessary to buy genetic materials – this issue has been discussed for a long time – and often a variety of things related to fertilizers, but why not make them yourself? And as soon as you start digging here, someone will interfere there. How many wars do you have to fight at the same time, on how many fronts?
V.A. – Well, first, there is such a thing as experience. Second – there are like-minded people and there is an understanding of where we are going.
I would like to remind you that in the Duma we had a very difficult issue of restricting the import of GMO products and seeds to the territory of the Russian Federation. Now you are saying that there are many opponents. Indeed, there were many opponents of this ban. We could not understand why, but then we realized that everything simply depends on the economic impact of individual groups of influence.
V. S. – Lobbying or something? Or, to express it simply, bribes?
V. A. – Lobbying, let’s call it that. They resisted, and yet this restriction was introduced. Now, as I have already said, the current Doctrine of Food Security includes the position on domestic seeds and domestic breeders, a which is a great victory of our colleagues in the Ministry of Agriculture. Today, together with the colleagues from the Ministry of Science, the Ministry of Agriculture is already working on this. There are already, I don’t want to announce it yet, there are certain achievements in poultry farming. There are indeed our domestic developments that are currently being tested.
V.S. – Well, look, oil turns into ordinary raw material and, as Mikhail Vladimirovich (Mishustin) said, we must understand that there will be a drop associated with oil price. This means that something must fill in this gap. Where do I get my money from? This is in your sphere of influence. Where is an opportunity to increase the revenue coming from exports, but what can we offer, where can we go ourselves? Where can we generate more, more, and more?
V. A. – Renewable resources. First of all, it is the forest. Today it is Russian…
V. S. – I didn’t hear you just now. You mentioned a three-letter word that I didn’t hear. What forest? Do we have a forest in our country?
V. A. – We have 67% of the country’s territory covered with forests
V. S. – And what income do we have from the forest?
V. A. – Very modest.
V. S. – Not exactly, only the state income is very modest!
V. A. – You mentioned the Federal Registration Service. Here, the Federal Register of state fees for accounting and registration actions gives the Federal budget about 36 billion rubles. The forest complex gives less.
V. S. – But this is impossible, isn’t it? Oh yes, we do understand.
V. A. – It shouldn’t be like this. But this is a fact. That’s why I’m here now…
V. S. – So, You decided to put another burden onto your shoulders?
V. A. – That was before me. I just asked my colleagues to take a different look at the forest complex. It should not consist of disparate elements. Separately – reforestation, separately – forest accounting, separately – processing of what has been harvested from the Russian forest and separately the export component. Now it is necessary to stitch everything together into a single complex, to look at the forest complex as an industry. And I very much hope that in a month’s time we will defend this strategy at a government meeting.
V. S. – Have you estimated potential income from the forest industry?
V. A. – Let me give you an example that the Prosecutor General’s office has voiced. These figures can already be publicized. On the territory of only one subject of the Russian Federation – the Irkutsk region – the damage to the forest complex and the loss to the budget of the Russian Federation resulted from the illegal activities amounted to 44 billion rubles.
V. S. – That is, our budget has not received enough.
V. A. – Yes. And that’s from the territory of only one subject of the Russian Federation.
V. S. – That is, what was supposed to come?
V. A. – Absolutely.
V. S. – Did you receive less than 36 billion rubles from the entire forest complex?
V. A. – From the whole country. Yes.
V. S. – From the whole country. And here in just one subject 44 billions were stolen. So, it turns out that we can make up for the falling oil revenues, not completely, perhaps. But for Finland, the forest is oil? For the Finnish economy. So, we’re going this way now?
V. A. – Yes. Another way – this is a modern, very popular topic – is the use of secondary resources. There’s a lot of talk about it, but we haven’t really done it yet.
V. S. – That is, it will closely link up with ecology?
V. A. – Yes. A green economy is what we need to achieve as part of the reform of solid municipal waste management. Such components as glass, plastic, cardboard, paper and aluminum should serve as secondary resources for our industry. This is also what we are doing now.
Another area that we started with is the Agro-industrial complex. The reserve in the agro-industrial complex is very large. We also have a large reserve of agricultural land. Which does not work in the Agricultural complex today. To achieve the goal set by the President to increase the export of agricultural products to 45 billion dollars a year, we must involve these lands in the turnover.
V. S. – But when you will return the land into production, you will also need to attract people there?
V. A. – We need to attract people, and we are working on this. There is a program for integrated rural development approved in 2019. Within this program, there is a very popular, measure enjoying strong support – rural mortgages. For rural mortgages today, loans are issued at a maximum of 3% per annum. We have a waiting list for several years for these loans. This year, this started working. One billion of Federal funds invested into these mortgages allows to attract about 18 billions of credit resources to help people improve their living conditions in rural areas.
V. S. – Seriously. So, it turns out, although now there is coronavirus and everything associated with it, we are already looking at how we will get out of this crisis. In other words, we are already putting in place all the necessary engines, which are not idle even now, but will start working at full capacity as soon as we have the opportunity. The countryside works tirelessly. What you said surprised me. I didn’t know that we are so much ahead of the previous year’s results. But there is always this eternal scourge – fires. Because while on the one hand, this is a plus that we were able to start sowing earlier, but on the other hand it means that we are entering the forest fire season a little earlier, too. What should we do with this?
V.A. – We have this situation now, because the climate is changing, because there is little snow in the winter, and the average annual temperature is quite high. We inspect the situation with forest fires almost year-round. In this 2020 year, forests started burning on January 8. They started to burn, surprisingly, in the North Caucasus. I would like to take this opportunity to address all Russians. We already have evidence that all forest fires are caused by humans. These are hunters, tourists, and those who are engaged in logging and prefer to burn the remains of their activities, not wanting to use them as required by regulations. Therefore, I want to appeal to our citizens to take care of the forest, take care of nature. Because, ultimately, that’s the air we breathe in cities. As it happened last year in the Krasnoyarsk region.
I would like to appeal to people and ask them to take a more responsible attitude to nature, to the environment, and to themselves, as well.
V.S. – How much do you know the real situation in the country, how much can monitor in real time? The country is huge, different time zones; it often happens that local authorities try to hide a little. All the media start shouting: Problem, problem! Then you get there and look for yourself, and it turns out that there is a problem, but it is a completely different one. You know what they said – give me a lot of money to build a subway. And then it turns out that they are burning coal and at a certain wind direction the city is submerged in smog. How do you manage to monitor and ascertain that you are dealing with real facts?
V.A. – Everything is online now. Everything happens very quickly. We get the picture from the volunteers, from environmentalists, from our active people. An alternative picture, by the way, because there are lots of speculations about the operational environmental situation. There are lots and lots of speculation.
V. S. – Can we say that now the work is going on in a completely different way? That now the time from idea to implementation is shrinking, that we will see the result of the activities of your colleagues quickly, very quickly. Not like the promised communism under Khrushchev, but real changes will take place in the lives of Russians living today.
V.A. – We will do everything we can for this. Over the past few years, we have proved that even in the absence of federal funding, it is possible to do good useful projects. And we did that, too. But about getting information quickly, I would also like to tell you one thing about forest fires. Surprisingly, thanks to modern digital technologies, getting fast data from the ground and remote algorithms, monitoring, decrypting images, analyzing the information that we get from the gas stations data, we can now distinguish little fires from forest fires. As my colleagues from the air guard unit report – we were in Irkutsk recently – we can distinguish a cigarette from a fire that was left in the forest. And by processing such big data, working with real-time remote sensing data, we can very quickly start extinguishing fires. And if a forest fire was detected on this day and measures were taken to localize and extinguish it on the same day, we cope with the situation and extinguish the forest fire on the first day. Several regions have already worked this way in 2019. This is the Kemerovo region, the Republic of Buryatia, and the Amur region, where our colleagues learned how to quickly get going based on the monitoring data , how to quickly extinguish and not have the same huge problems as in the Krasnoyarsk region last year.
The host of this interview Vladimir Solovyov expressed confidence that despite the huge amount of work yet to be done, the government will ensure that the country’s economy will grow so much that Russians will be able to say that we live in the best country in the world.
He thanked the guest and noted that members of the Russian government, along with the medical workers, work 24/7 for the future and prosperity of Russia.
Watching the pace of change in the lives of ordinary Russians, having visited Russia twice in the past 5 years, while traveling around dozens of cities and towns, I was struck by the transformation not only of Moscow, and they are simply amazing, but also of other cities. In the twenty years that I have lived in America, Russia has gone from an untidy and unkempt country to the most beautiful place on Earth. Everywhere, there are new neighborhoods, highways, dozens of metro stations sparkling with cleanliness, a wide network of Supermarkets and specialty stores, cafes, restaurants, repair shops, and consumer service establishments. Can US grocery stores compete with Russian stores in terms of variety of foods? There are a large number of new high-tech enterprises, free 10-channel TV in all, even the most remote, areas of the country, and universal Wi-Fi. Most importantly, people have changed – they are better dressed than in Europe, their faces are lit up with smiles, they are liberated. They have become completely different; these people are strikingly different from those I saw 20 years ago. The same is true in many republics of the former Soviet Union. I think that the traits of collectivism and selfless mutual assistance, the sense of common goals of their vast country, which socialism has instilled in them, will soon allow them to reach the greatest heights of prosperity for all segments of the population.