Sergei Sobyanin’s interview with Govorit Moskva radio station

23 July 2015

Sergei Dorenko: We are back on air. We have here with us Sergei Sobyanin, the Mayor of Moscow. I’m glad you could come. So, five years... When will it be five years since your election?

Sergei Sobyanin: On 21 October.

Sergei Dorenko: And I thought that it will be in August... Anyway, your five years as Moscow Mayor. When you agreed to take this post, did you know that Moscow is cautious of aliens, that it favours Muscovites, which is especially true of senior Muscovites, who can be described as fretful?

Sergei Sobyanin: Sergei, I knew about Moscow long before I became its Mayor. I worked in the Federation Council, Kremlin administration and Government, meeting many Muscovites. I can assure you that I knew Moscow quite well, yet I didn’t know what depth of feeling to expect.

Sergei Dorenko: Did you face it?

Sergei Sobyanin: Yes, especially considering the difficulties we faced at the end of 2010 and early in 2011. You should remember them. The political and economic situation was a mess, and I landed right in the middle of it.

Sergei Dorenko: Yes, that is true. There was one more complication — your predecessor, who held that post for 18 years and was considered as a Moscow feature, so that when he left many people thought everything would collapse. But nothing collapsed, absolutely nothing.

Can we talk about your five years as the Mayor now, at least in a few words? Can you say, “I did it?” What would you say about these five years?

Sergei Sobyanin: That’s a difficult question.

Sergei Dorenko: Please just a few words.

Sergei Sobyanin: You can’t answer this question in a few words, as I have to deal with groups of different issues. Still, I think that the biggest change in the city is a new development ideology. It seems to me that the city was becoming increasingly unfriendly towards Muscovites, the city residents; it was a harsh city with a growing number of vehicles, a diminishing social space and not very comfortable to live in.

Sergei Dorenko: Yes, we went to Rome, Paris and Madrid for comforts.

Sergei Sobyanin: Exactly. The municipal strategy was focused on the construction business and building up the centre, with more and more vehicles in a diminishing social space. I think that we have changed this ideology. Not that we have eradicated it, but I think that we have changed the trend. Very gradually, the city is improving, becoming kinder and more comfortable. I see this as our primary achievement.

Sergei Dorenko: Let’s think about our climate. A spontaneous street life has existed in the Mediterranean for two or three thousand years, and here, we have winter for five months a year. Whenever we are approaching winter I think to myself: isn’t it paradoxical that we’ll soon hide in our flats, switch on the heating and start playing dominos and cards or watching TV? We won’t leave home, because it’s cold outside.

Sergei Sobyanin: Sergei, this is probably one of Moscow’s most serious problems compared to European cities, where it’s possible to plant flowers the whole year round, wear shorts and ride a bike. Moscow is quite different. It is a northern city — probably the most populous northern city. And its climate is not the best in the world.

Sergei Dorenko: Nor are its bike paths.

Sergei Sobyanin: Indeed. We thought from the very start about what we can offer Muscovites in winter. We had a saying: parks sleep in winter. This meant that people did not visit them in winter, they were shut down and streets were covered with ice. What can you do? We changed this and now more people — at least, not fewer — visit parks in winter because they have all the winter amenities, wonderful rinks with artificial ice, slides and ski tracks. They host winter fairs and other events. It turned out winter is not a problem for Moscow. On the contrary, winter is an attraction, and tourists come to Moscow to admire its winter appearance, and there is nothing bad about this. The city looks different in different seasons and this only adds charm to it.

Sergei Dorenko: Driving around we see an incredibly wealthy city although we have become a bit poorer. Do you know what I’m talking about? Curbs are changed every year. Just think about this. We also think about repairs, because we need to fix something in the kitchen or paint the walls. Some people paint fences. I live in the countryside and I have a fence but I’ll paint it next year rather than now. Meanwhile, Moscow is showing off: look how much asphalt it has! I know how much asphalt costs: Armenians offered it to me. It is awfully expensive. And Moscow has remained a wealthy city but its residents are getting poorer. Is that right?

Sergei Sobyanin: It was proposed to me more than once that I not do anything because of the crisis.

Sergei Dorenko: We’d understand.

Sergei Sobyanin: Yes, everyone would understand. Let’s stop upgrading everything, improving parks, squares and pedestrian paths in Moscow. Why wash these facades or remove the wires hanging over our heads? Let everything stay as it is. Why spend money on this? On the other hand, I’m being told that the elite and innovation-oriented young people are leaving Moscow. They don’t want to live here, so let’s create the conditions that would motivate people to live in Moscow rather than leave it.

Sergei Dorenko: So you want to reverse this trend?

Sergei Sobyanin: This is the main anti-crisis measure: to make Moscow more beautiful so as to encourage people to stay here, invest their money, build their homes here, arrange their life, send their children to local schools and let them work here. This is the main point. This doesn’t cost too much compared to some projects that require huge expenses, but the effect is entirely different. I think this is exactly what we must be doing today.

Sergei Dorenko: Let’s finish our conversation about asphalt because there are many questions about it. We think they lay it almost twice a year. I’m not kidding. They laid asphalt here on Biryuzova Street in June not of this year but the one before last and by late August they did it again.

Sergei Sobyanin: No, Sergei, they did not re-lay it. They laid it once and that’s it. Today we have a different system — a system of triple oversight. First, we control materials brought to asphalt concrete factories, then we supervise what is going on at these factories and finally we watch how builders lay it. All contractors work with a three-year guarantee. If a laboratory determines that they did a poor job (it’s not enough just to look at it) they will have to redo it either immediately or next year. About 10 percent of asphalt had to be re-laid and eventually our contractors realised that doing a poor job is more trouble than it is worth. This year the amount of rejected asphalt has decreased by about ten times.

Sergei Dorenko: They redo a poor job at their own expense, right?

Sergei Sobyanin: Yes, at their own expense. If they don’t want to do this, we’ll take the matter to court and claim the money under the guarantees they gave us through the bank.

Sergei Dorenko: Moscow has an enormous budget but have you been affected by the crisis and is it losing money as a single economic mechanism?

Sergei Sobyanin: No, it is not losing money although it is very easy to make any economy start losing money regardless of its budget. I adopted such a budget in 2010. We borrowed about 300 billion roubles for current expenses alone and every following year they generated more expenses. Although our budget has not increased but in fact decreased in comparable prices in the past three years we still managed to pay half of our debts that we inherited. We are trying not to borrow anymore, to make do on our income. This is very difficult but we are coping.

Sergei Dorenko: Do you attract any investment from the outside? Private business or the state?

Sergei Sobyanin: Private business is playing a major role in the economy. Let’s put it this way: most investment — two-thirds of capital investment — comes from private sources. What attracts them? Because the city meets business halfway and invests itself in the infrastructure, transport, the energy industry, amenities and the social sphere. So it is easy for investors to join these efforts.

Sergei Dorenko: How do they get a return on their investment? For instance, if I invest in the metro I don’t understand how I will get money from this...

Sergei Sobyanin: I’m saying that the city is investing in the infrastructure whereas business is focusing on other spheres, such as trade, offices, residential buildings and the like. Moscow is one of the world’s leading metropolises in the commissioning of trade centres and in general retail and office space. This was a serious goal for us and we reached it.

Sergei Dorenko: Is Moscow ahead even of Chinese megacities?

Sergei Sobyanin: Moscow is absolutely comparable to them and we are ahead of them in some metrics.

Sergei Dorenko: But what about the crisis? I hear that only 70 percent or even 30 percent of office space is rented and the same is happening with retail space. Do you have a backup plan if the crisis becomes worse?

Sergei Sobyanin: As for offices, we understood from the very start that some of the newly-built offices will be empty. Is it good or bad? I think it is wonderful because whom are we working for? Developers who fix the rent for offices? Or are we working for small and medium companies that will occupy these offices? I think we should primarily work in their interests. To help them we should create excess supply in the market. In this case the rent will drop and it will be easier for business to develop.

Sergei Dorenko: Unfortunately, the all-Russian problem of lending concerns you as well. The prohibitive interest rates affect Moscow as well, don’t they?

Sergei Sobyanin: Of course. Perhaps this was our biggest problem during the crisis. Thank God, these rates are gradually declining. If they stay the same, we will see a drop in the volume of investments, both capital and others. Nothing will happen without injections from banks or regular bank loans. I see that the Central Bank realises this, and the interest rates drop almost every quarter. That’s a good sign. We also see that consumer loans are on the rise again. Slowly, but they are increasing. And this is also a good sign.

Sergei Dorenko: Are the Chinese coming to Russia, I wonder? When you say private investment, are you referring to domestic or foreign private investment? And if foreign, is it European or Chinese?

Sergei Sobyanin: Ninety percent of investors are Russian.

Sergei Dorenko: Okay.

Sergei Sobyanin: Even if they are foreign, they have roots in Russian offshore companies, and so on. However, there’s a significant number of foreigners as well. The Chinese are not present on the Russian market en masse. We are conducting active negotiations on infrastructure projects with them. I hope that things will work out for us, as Chinese investments are playing an increasing role globally, and we mustn’t fall behind.

Sergei Dorenko: We have Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin in our studio. Mr Sobyanin, we will continue right after the 10 pm news. (News)

Sergei Dorenko: Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin is in our studio. Mr Sobyanin, let me read a few ... Now, I’m being accused that I’m trying to suck up to you. Mikhail writes, “Sobyanin speaks plain Russian language. That’s cool.” Someone else writes, “I had to shut down my business, because of Sobyanin’s decision, and go into the gray zone. I’m now in the gray zone.” What’s going on with small businesses?

Sergei Sobyanin: Overall, things aren’t bad with small businesses. Ironically, the number of businesses, including private businesses, is up compared with 2014. At least, that’s what the tax office, where they are registered, tells us. However, in times of crisis, small businesses, just like any other businesses, experience difficulties.

Sergei Dorenko: Difficulties, right.

Sergei Sobyanin: Clearly, small businesses that mostly engage in retail operations are hit particularly hard due to a decrease in consumer demand. However, I hope that consumer demand will recover in Moscow.

There’s another business that needs to be supported and developed in Moscow. I’m referring to innovation-based business, which doesn’t depend on consumer demand. It depends on the environment that we should create for it.

Sergei Dorenko: Technically, is Skolkovo located in Moscow or the Moscow Region?

Sergei Sobyanin: Skolkovo is in Moscow. Recently, we gave it the status of a municipal technology park, meaning that it will receive additional municipal benefits. By the way, on that same day, it was decided to amend the Moscow law, which will include almost all technology parks in Moscow — about 50 — on the list of facilities supported by the Moscow Government. We are aware of what Skolkovo or Moskva technology parks are all about — they are publicly funded projects, but we hardly know anything about the many technology parks that also operate on the market. According to our estimates, there are about 70 of them, with tens of thousands of employees.

Sergei Dorenko: Already now?

Sergei Sobyanin: Yes, but they are being ignored and left without help. We conducted such an audit, and adjusted our work to what they are doing. Not the other way round.

Sergei Dorenko: In what ways can you help them?

Sergei Sobyanin: We sign an agreement with them, where they must tell us about their development plans, investments in their respective businesses, and their priority areas of research, whereas we provide them with additional opportunities, easier terms on land, real estate taxes, leasing, and so on, including subsidising interest rates. That is, the entire municipal mechanism starts working for these parks and these innovative areas instead of being spread thin over the entire perimeter with no particular goal in mind.

Sergei Dorenko: I think that they are very smart guys, Mr Sobyanin, they have a transnational dimension.

Sergei Sobyanin: That’s exactly why we must keep them here by proving proper urban environment...

Sergei Dorenko: What will we get in return?

Sergei Sobyanin: ...a) urban environment and b) proper working environment. What we’ll get is an innovation-based economy.

Sergei Dorenko: What if they come up with something really good that ...

Sergei Sobyanin: And leave Russia, you mean?

Sergei Dorenko: ... something that has critical importance for the market, say, in California. They may even stay here in Russia, they don’t have to go anywhere.

Sergei Sobyanin: They will sell it, right.

Sergei Dorenko: To California.

Sergei Sobyanin: So what?

Sergei Dorenko: And leave the money there, too. And so on and so forth.

Sergei Sobyanin: If they sell anything, the money will come here. There’s another question: who is going to implement their invention? Yes, this is what the world is like today. Why don’t our manufacturers implement the ideas that are developed in California? This may well be part of our agenda. You know, we should promote this cluster no matter what. There’s no way around it. Without creating an innovation-based environment in our city ... What are we going to do? Sell stuff? What else?

Sergei Dorenko: I see.

Sergei Sobyanin: Build steel mills? I don’t think so. We must follow the trend that has been adopted by the majority of international cities. This doesn’t mean that we should kill the industry, no, we must support and expand it, but it should also be based on innovations. But we should focus on creating start-ups and engineering centres, whereas large-scale manufacturing facilities should be located outside Moscow, in places where mills and mill products are in high demand.

Sergei Dorenko: I also wanted to ask you about that but let’s return to small businesses for a moment. We both remember the 1990s and what the deal was: “Guys, the state is going through hard times, so feed your wives and children yourselves. Send your kids to school yourselves. You probably don’t even pay taxes but it’s okay.” In other words, I’m referring to self-employment. I think hard times are approaching again or about to come. This is a political issue. Maybe our men should be told: “Okay guys, you make money yourselves. We don’t need you for the moment. We won’t pursue or torture you; we won’t even check you. But make a living yourselves. Make sure your sons go to school on 1 September in neat uniforms and with all textbooks. Buy them bikes as well. How will you make money to get all this? It’s up to you.” So, they are motivated to be self-employed. Don’t you think this is the right policy?

Sergei Sobyanin: Of course, we can choose this kind of anarchy, but in this case you will be sending your son to a school where teachers are not paid or to a clinic where doctors receive no money.

Sergei Dorenko: Yes, that’s how it was in the 1990s.

Sergei Sobyanin: Your elderly mother will come to you and ask: “Son, where is my pension?” Look, nobody in the world operates like that, it’s unacceptable. Yes, business should develop but it should pay taxes to provide for the social sphere that is working for it. Otherwise, our economy will collapse and we’ll live like in the 1990s again.

Sergei Dorenko: Yes, those 1990s...

Sergei Sobyanin: When self-employment was everywhere and everyone paid from his own pocket for everything.

Sergei Dorenko: But we made it.

Sergei Sobyanin: Yes.

Sergei Dorenko: We made it. We coped with all the problems.

Sergei Sobyanin: Look, hardly anyone would like to return to these times.

Sergei Dorenko: No, we certain don’t. Okay, go ahead.

Elvira Khasanshina: Our listeners are complaining. They are saying sales tax will kill small business. They are asking why it is being introduced — for retail chains?

Sergei Sobyanin: This sales tax is minimal, symbolic. It is not even a separate payment. It is paid according to the established rate that is counted as a tax on profit. If you show even just a kopeck in profit tax, this sales tax won’t affect you at all. But if you don’t pay even a kopeck we want you to pay something in sales tax. Show us that you are doing something, that you’re working. I think this is more like business legalisation than an additional tax.

Sergei Dorenko: Pensioners write that the Moscow premium has not been raised for five years now.

Sergei Sobyanin: But pensions were increased. They were adjusted for inflation.

Sergei Dorenko: Is the Moscow premium expected to increase?

Sergei Sobyanin: This is quite possible. If we see that pensions are not adequately adjusted for inflation, we’ll consider measures of municipal support.

Sergei Dorenko: Sorry, Yevgeny, we cannot discuss your private case here. He says he invented an electronic notebook and it was bought by Californians rather than Muscovites. Yevgeny, this is a separate case. I think the job of the mayor is to create the right environment. Long before you became the mayor, I flew over the Ring Road on a plane. At that time Myachkovo airport was still there. I saw that Moscow has many areas where I wouldn’t like to walk in without a pistol or knife in my pocket. There are sheds by railways. I know usually there are lots of syringes around them. I haven’t been there for a long time but these areas are suspicious. There are suspicious, strange places along the river from Serebryany Bor to, probably, Fili Park. There are also deserted industrial areas — Mnyovniki, for one, and some old car park. The former car park of the USSR State Committee on Radio and Television is there, as well as the vegetable warehouse of Krasnopresnenky district — an odd place. It appears that Moscow has lots of space. What will happen with these areas?

Sergei Sobyanin: On the one hand, they pose a problem, but on the other, they are a reserve for development. Why are they in such bad shape? In our beloved 1990s we were just talking about, these industrial zones were given away for next to nothing to their former directors and God knows whom else under the pretext of corporatisation. All directors resold these zones three times over, selling separately each shed. Now an industrial zone with an area of 10 hectares has from 20 to 30 owners and each of them sticks to his shed. So they cannot launch any joint project and don’t want to build anything there. It is easier to rent it out.

Sergei Dorenko: They don’t have the money.

Sergei Sobyanin: They are getting something, so they may live and be satisfied. There are still many deserted industrial zones in Moscow. We have been actively working on this issue in the past three years. We made planning projects and told their owners — you can build offices or real estate here; you can leave this spot as an industrial zone; you can build residential buildings there, and a road should be made in this place. We tried to persuade investors to unite these industrial zones by purchasing pieces of it from the owners who do not want to do anything. Draft a joint project and we’ll issue a construction permit to you. Now these zones account for a quarter of all construction in Moscow — housing, industrial facilities, office space and retail chains. One quarter of all construction.

Sergei Dorenko: Please don’t forget my request as a car owner. Don’t forget about the roads because those built by Brezhnev cannot handle the current load.

Sergei Sobyanin: Sure, don’t worry.

Sergei Dorenko: When Kutuzovsky Prospekt was expanded to six lanes I was driving there alone on my Moskvitch 21406 on 76 brand gasoline and thinking to myself: Why have these fools built such a wide road? Now it is packed to capacity.

Sergei Sobyanin: Returning to the topic of transit lines. The main projects to develop industrial zones are located on the Moscow Belt Railway, the Smaller Belt Railway; many of these awful territories encircle this railway. What are we doing right now? Based on the Moscow Belt Railway, we are completing the project of creating the Second Interchange Circuit of the Metro, which will be linked with both radial railway lines and metro lines. That will be a ring administered by the Metro, and its trains will run with the same frequency as metro trains. As a result, all adjacent industrial zones will be potentially attractive for investors. They will be able to build housing, develop these territories and create business projects. Thus we will develop this enormous territory in the coming years. This is a major Moscow investment project.

Sergei Dorenko: In some cities, I see protected zones for spontaneous street life. I recall small towns in the Baltic countries. I have seen small towns with protected areas. These protected areas serve for walking and entertainment, and the remaining part runs along a highway. The same is true of Manhattan. A taxi is more convenient there than a private car, because you’re always having to pay for things. And what about Moscow? How do you see it? Within the boundaries of the Moscow Ring Road (MKAD), where is there an area that is protected from traffic and drivers? We happen to be drivers...

I understand what you said in the beginning, that it is not right that people live in the centre. For us, coming to Moscow from the Riga-Moscow motorway and heading for Mytishchi, it is just an intersection, a transfer point, a village to cross on our way. I understand this, but how much do you want to protect? From MKAD to MKAD, or do you want to create a nucleus with walking zones?

Sergei Sobyanin: Neither. Neither a nucleus, nor from MKAD to MKAD. But look at what we are doing now in practical terms. You see that we have created a cluster of pedestrian streets in central Moscow.

Sergei Dorenko: That is true, and it’s great.

Sergei Sobyanin: Both local residents and visitors can walk here. How many kilometres of walking and improved streets have we created in central Moscow? Well, about 16 km. Meanwhile we created 100 km of such streets for the whole of the city over the same period. Thus 80 percent of these streets are located in peripheral areas. In peripheral areas we are building pedestrian boulevards, parks and streets.

Moscow is vast; each administrative area is a city of one million residents. And this city of one million residents should have everything of its own. There should be a park, a boulevard, a walking street and a bicycle lane, and so on. And a motorway too. The city should arrive at a compromise between the desire to be able to get somewhere quickly by car, and simultaneously to take a walk in a pedestrian zone.

Sergei Dorenko: Brussels has such a zone in its suburbs. There is Via Diagonal in Barcelona. Maybe you should consider shooting through Moscow somehow?

Sergei Sobyanin: We are shooting.

Sergei Dorenko: Shooting?

Sergei Sobyanin: Yes.

Sergei Dorenko: So you will do this?

Sergei Sobyanin: We are under barrage of criticism; and yet we are doing this, we are building the Northwestern Connecting Loop Road. What does this involve?

Sergei Dorenko: By the way, who is that man that has been found at last in Florence, who bought a villa for 50 million euros — 11 buildings, 60 rooms? The same person who has been building the Baltiysky Tunnel in Moscow?

Sergei Sobyanin: At one time, the Alabyan-Baltiiskaya Tunnel, which went from nowhere to nowhere, was the most expensive project. We should at least take advantage of this situation. The construction is unfinished, but I believe that it will be completed this year. We made it part of the Northwestern connecting loop road and the overpass across Leningradskoye Motorway. It is now central to this part of the road infrastructure. One could, of course, drop this project, mothball it and forget about it.

Sergei Dorenko: Do you personally oversee...

Sergei Sobyanin: Listen, Sergei. Tens of billions of roubles were spent at some point to build it. I believe that it was unnecessary. But since these funds have already been spent, the facility should be put to good use. What we did is stretched the road from the tunnel to the north and the west by building the Northwestern connecting loop road.

Sergei Dorenko: Do you personally oversee the situation, because there were people who stole money from the budget...

Sergei Sobyanin: Of course. A criminal case to that effect was opened

Sergei Dorenko: So, you are on top of it?

Sergei Sobyanin: Of course.

Sergei Dorenko: What if this criminal case suddenly starts treading water? Will you give it a nudge?

Sergei Sobyanin: Of course. However, the bankers are the biggest stakeholders in such criminal cases, as the city never works with major contractors directly without bank guarantees. They take guarantees from the bank, and the bank then has to chase the scammers who stole the money, ran away and bankrupted the company.

Sergei Dorenko: I see. Early on, if I remember correctly, you said that you don’t engage in politics. Is that true? Being in charge of the capital city is nothing short of engaging in big politics. At least in Russia.

Sergei Sobyanin: Sergei, that depends on what we mean by politics. I’m not into politicking, or yelling catchy slogans. I don’t speak whenever I have a chance to speak. I’m engaged in the kind of work that includes healthcare, education, utilities, housing, roads, and so on. But if you don’t want to refer to this as politics, well, don’t. But if you do something bad or wrong, politics will quickly show up at your door.

Sergei Dorenko: And yet, I would say that Moscow has an overarching importance in the history of Russia: not a single revolution in Russia has ever come from the heartland. Perhaps, someone from Orenburg may say that a couple of revolutions came from there, but they fizzled out without accomplishing anything. The leader of the popular uprising, Yemelian Pugachev, and his men were destroyed and that was the end of it. All successful revolutions originated in the capitals — St Petersburg or Moscow, which means that you as Mayor have gigantic political importance, as you are in control of the situation in the capital. How would you describe yourself? A conservative patriot, a straight conservative, a liberal, or a liberal patriot? Definitely not a liberal Westernist, I already gathered this from our conversation. So, who are you? In terms of political philosophy?

Sergei Sobyanin: So many offensive handles in one sentence. I don’t care about names. I’m an absolutely pragmatic person. If being a conservative is good for the city, I’ll be a conservative; if being a liberal is good for our city, I’ll be a liberal. I don’t care what it’s called. I’ll just do what’s good for the city. This is my main policy.

Sergei Dorenko: But when you look at the horizon, you see a timeframe of about 20-30 years of development. You are laying down processes that will...

Sergei Sobyanin: Sergei, I’ll give you two examples.

Sergei Dorenko: Go ahead.

Sergei Sobyanin: So, we sold all of the assets that relate to the agricultural sector, such as the Kaluga agricultural company, a tomato farm in Karachay-Cherkessia, and so on. We don’t do business. What do you say? Here’s a liberal who sold all of the property, and so on.

Sergei Dorenko: Yes, yes, that’s important.

Sergei Sobyanin: On the other hand, we have restored an absolutely Soviet-like housing and utilities system with publicly funded institutions operating houses, courtyards, roads, and so on. What do you call that?

Sergei Dorenko: That’s my favourite topic. Second only to the news.

Sergei Sobyanin: Is that a communist, a conservative or whoever it may be?

Sergei Dorenko: That’s someone who believes in a strong state.

Sergei Sobyanin: I’m not dealing with things in terms of ideology but in terms of pragmatism. If I see that I can manage things, and they are effective, I go ahead and create them. If I believe that something will be managed better by businesses, I give it over to them.

Sergei Dorenko: Even though you don’t like those terms, I will nevertheless identify you as a statist and a pragmatist. A pragmatic statist. Well, I think you are. Is that possible?

Sergei Sobyanin: Yes, everything is possible.

Sergei Dorenko: Here’s a question that I’d be remiss not to ask. In 2024, you will turn 66.

Sergei Sobyanin: You’re good at math.

Sergei Dorenko: Yes, I crunched some numbers. Aren’t you going to run for presidential office?

Sergei Sobyanin: No way.

Sergei Dorenko: Why? I’m not trying to talk you into it, I’m just curious.

Sergei Sobyanin: Sergei, those who have never been part of the power system and don’t know what it’s all about believe that this is all they need to be happy. They think that life there is sweet and worry-free. No way! It’s complicated and hard work that just kills people mentally.

Sergei Dorenko: That may make its way into the Russian history textbooks, or be just a chapter. You see the difference?

Sergei Sobyanin: Look, I’m neither interested in any history textbooks, nor do I engage in self-promotion. I’m interested in my work. It makes me feel good about myself. I think it’s exciting work for a man.

Sergei Dorenko: That’s true. All right, I will stop bugging you on this subject. I tried to talk you into things, but to no avail.

Sergei Sobyanin: You failed.

Sergei Dorenko: Yes, I did. But I can see that you thought about it deeply. You thought that if there was a certain failure, it means that you had certain thoughts as well.

Sergei Sobyanin: There are many people who want to ask this question, Sergei.

Sergei Dorenko: The St Vladimir statue, where would you like to have it built?

Sergei Sobyanin: Indeed, several good spots have been picked so far. I do believe that Vorobyevy Hills are a sound choice, but it really poses engineering problems. Reinforcing the slope and some other things would come at a fairly steep price. This sparked a discussion. The Military Historical Society has identified three more places that are, in my opinion, quite good — Lubyanka, the area outside the Borovitsky Gate, and Zaryadye. I think that we should rely on the opinion of Moscow residents. The Military Historical Society did the right thing to conduct an interactive poll. I think that we will soon conduct a similar poll on the Active Citizen website.

Sergei Dorenko: I’m a participant.

Sergei Sobyanin: There are about 1 million subscribers to Active Citizen. We’ll get a representative sample and find out what’s on people’s minds. We will then use this as a basis to go ahead with the design.

Sergei Dorenko: You know, Active Citizen may not be enough... Where would you personally like to see that monument built?

Sergei Sobyanin: Still, I think that a spot near Borovitsky Gate is the best place. There’s a fairly poorly kept area there that can be improved accordingly to accommodate the monument. I think that this place is a perfect fit.

Sergei Dorenko: Imagine getting stuck in a traffic jam on Bolshoi Kamenny Most and being blessed with a cross! How cool!

Sergei Sobyanin: We are moving, by the way.

Sergei Dorenko: Oh yes! We are moving. They wanted to have it on Vorobyevy Gory so that it could be seen from the river. This was the whole idea.

Sergei Sobyanin: It will be seen from the river here as well.

Sergei Dorenko: Indeed, it will be also seen from the river.

Sergei Sobyanin: It won’t be seen on Lubyanka because this square is closed on all sides.

Sergei Dorenko: But something should be put on Lubyanka: it looks a bit empty.

Sergei Sobyanin: They watered horses on Lubyanka at one time.

Sergei Dorenko: Watered horses?

Sergei Sobyanin: Yes, it was even called a “water place” or a “fountain”; not an ordinary fountain but a place where water was poured so that coachmen could water their horses on this square. Then a more beautiful fountain was built there. Maybe we should restore it and put an end to all debates on this place, thereby saving it from politicisation.

Sergei Dorenko: I feel mystical horror at the installation of the statue of Prince Vladimir because he was a great revolutionary. Won’t this lead to some perturbation? They have a monument to him in Kiev. He was a great revolutionary.

Sergei Sobyanin: I haven’t heard that he was a revolutionary.

Sergei Dorenko: He was a great revolutionary. He introduced many new things during his rule.

Sergei Sobyanin: He is a revolutionary in this sense of the word, and he did much for the country. He united Russia, created a common ideology for it and the country survived with it. If it had not been for him, Russia would have probably not even have existed.

Sergei Dorenko: Probably. Let’s take a break for a moment, and hear the news. (News.)

Sergei Dorenko: We’re back. Mayor of Moscow Sergei Sobyanin is our guest. Mr Sobyanin, allow me to read some praise. “You are the best!” I’m not sure whether this was intended for you or for me. “You are the best!”

Sergei Sobyanin: This is about you.

Sergei Dorenko: I’ll continue: “To Sobyanin: why is the number of accidents in the Moscow metro increasing?” Let me look through these messages quickly. “Let’s restore the traditions of the holy Russian Empire!” A man says “hello” to you on behalf of the owners of pickup lorries. Here’s more. Alexander writes: “A pleasant and clever man. I’m glad he is our mayor. Thank you.” Yulia writes: “Sobyanin is a classy talker. He is fairly emotional and this is a surprise.” By the way, why do you spend such little time in public? Yulia is surprised that you are emotional. Why? They expected some official talking in a clumsy style. Do you know why? Because they don’t know you well enough.

Sergei Sobyanin: Sergei, this is so because you don’t invite me.

Sergei Dorenko: Is that so? Then of course, you are invited!

Elvira Khasanshina: They also say that you talk in a lively manner.

Sergei Dorenko: Yes, they write about your lively and understandable language. People are surprised at this. Slava writes on Twitter: “Please ask the Mayor about hospitals that are being shut down and pensioners who throw themselves out of the window — about healthcare in a word.” So what about healthcare?

Sergei Sobyanin: Everything is okay with healthcare. I heard in the news that Moscow outpatient clinics have occupied the first place in the national ratings. I was surprised because I didn’t know that. I still don’t know whether this is true or not.

Sergei Dorenko: What if the others are truly horrible?

Sergei Sobyanin: Everything is relative. Are we comparing our outpatient clinics with those in Berlin or New York?

Sergei Dorenko: I’ll tell you about my experience. I was in Canada, a long time ago, unfortunately, in 1997, and met a guy who was also named Sergei. He had a health problem and I asked him why he did not go to a doctor. He said: “I will make an appointment on New Year’s day in January, and will go in April.” This was in Canada. He had to wait three months for the appointment, and here the wait is only one month but people are irritated. I’m referring to seeing specialists.

Sergei Sobyanin: Yes, but this does not often happen. Usually people get an appointment with a specialist in seven days. I’m referring to the majority of such doctors. I’m sure there are problems sometimes. There are some specialists with which people cannot schedule an appointment. They should first visit a general practitioner who will send them for a consultation with a specialist. After receiving it, your specialist will schedule another appointment for you. This is done all over the world. We have reduced the number of specialists as much as we could but this is how it should work. Otherwise, some people won’t even get an appointment with the right doctors because they will have too many patients, and some of these appointments would be unnecessary at this stage. This is the first point.

Now the second point. We have made public registration for medical appointments in outpatient clinics. If you look at the government services website, you can see the daily dynamics of this registration since 2012 when we introduced online registration and up to this day. You can watch it every day and see how much time you will have to wait for an appointment in your local clinic. Maybe you will choose to visit another clinic. Moreover, you can lodge a complaint about specific problems with a particular clinic on the Our City website. Furthermore, after visiting a clinic, its chief doctor will send you an SMS message: “Mr Dorenko, are you content with your appointment or not? If not, please let us know and we’ll help.”

Sergei Dorenko: This system is operating very well. I went to an integrated government service centre yesterday.

Sergei Sobyanin: At the integrated Government service centre?

Sergei Dorenko: Really, the centre in Shchukinskaya operates perfectly. It’s clean, with good toilets and there are no crowds of people. But the point is that there are two different categories of people in Moscow in terms of their ability to perceive these innovations. As for me, I’m really good at the Internet and electronic services. But what about senior citizens?

Sergei Sobyanin: Nothing has changed for senior citizens — they can still call the centre’s reception to make a doctor’s appointment. But, anyway, all appointments are electronic. This is necessary to see when a person has seen a doctor and how much he or she had to wait for the appointment.

Sergei Dorenko: So, you can make an appointment even by phone, can’t you?

Sergei Sobyanin: Absolutely. We monitor how much time a patient waits for an appointment — 10, 40, 50 minutes, or an hour and a half. If the waiting period exceeds 40 minutes, we start to make health centres improve the situation to reduce crowds of patients. Some would say that now a doctor’s appointment lasts only five minutes. But we monitor this, too. If so, we make health centres increase the appointment time.

Sergei Dorenko: As far as I know, healthcare reform in Moscow means challenging times for people. Judging from your words, I can say that it’s true...

Sergei Sobyanin: It’s not, actually. In fact, healthcare reform does not mean hard times, as the healthcare sector now receives more financing. The volume of allocations towards healthcare is bigger than ever. But funding channels have changed. Previously, medical staff received their salaries in any case, but now the situation has changed. They receive salaries for the services provided. If you don’t provide a service, you won’t get money. But the volume of funding grew 1.5 times compared to two to three years ago.

Sergei Dorenko: We just need to get used to the reforms. I’m just expressing my feelings. I talked about this with your deputy, Mr Pechatnikov. I told him, “Guys, just explain what’s going on.” I can’t understand.

Sergei Sobyanin: To make the situation clear, we’re implementing these mechanisms of interactive interaction. If a chief doctor asks a patient, “What problems do you have? Are you satisfied? How did you like the appointment? Was the doctor polite? What was the health situation there? How much time did you have to wait for the appointment?”, the patient starts to think, “And what problems did I face?” So, this is the interaction between a doctor and a patient, which gives us an understanding of what to do next to improve the situation.

But the most interesting thing is that when we just ask people if they’re satisfied with healthcare, half of the respondents answer negatively. But when we ask people about their exact appointment, 85 percent say that they were satisfied.

Sergei Dorenko: Is everything normal?

Sergei Sobyanin: We mostly see the impact of healthcare reform not in our practical experience, but rather in what we hear and see in the media. This informational background tends to be mostly negative regardless of which reforms are undertaken. Despite this, one should work step by step to improve our clinics, reduce queues, improve the quality of services and we are working on this daily. This is not a simple question.

Sergei Dorenko: You don’t say! We receive letters... Stop your rubbish, friends! Yesterday I visited an integrated government services centre. “The integrated government services centre extends the period of service by four days.” Stop this rubbish, friends, yesterday I took a ticket and I wanted to take a seat and I could find a place to sit down. I was called — I did not have time to sit down. I was at this centre yesterday. Yesterday!

I was a member of the Communist Party as of 2003. I left it later. Different people were building Moscow and they had different ideals. At some point, a decision was taken to bring back historical names. I built a shed and I said: “Let it be the Holy Grail.” Whatever. Somebody says: “Are you silly?” But I was the builder. And these arguments concerning Pyotr Voikov [Russian revolutionary and Soviet diplomat] — Voikovsky district, Voikovskaya metro station and so on. I think that the blue-collar employees who built this with their hands and hearts and who named this station after Voikov, why should we change the name? I just want to know your point of view.

Sergei Sobyanin: We always bear in mind the views of local residents. We always ask them. If they decide that a new name is more becoming, let it be. However, local residents are generally very apprehensive as regards renaming, as this involves a change in one’s address, registration, property ownership documents and so on. When renaming something affects no individuals, it is tolerable. But when a long street receives a new name, one should tread very cautiously. And honestly...

Sergei Dorenko: But what is your viewpoint regarding the Voikovskaya metro station?

Sergei Sobyanin: I think that we should think about the Voikovskaya metro station. Renaming the station does not entail changes in addresses. Let’s hear what people will say.

Sergei Dorenko: For a while I lived in Komsomolsk-on-Amur. I knew who built that city. It was built by prisoners. And it was built by Komsomol members, too. They built it well. And they gave this name to the city. Ask the city residents: “Do you like being called Komsomolchians?” They will answer: “Your know nothing. That’s the way the city was named by its builders.”

Sergei Sobyanin: Yes. Therefore, I say, as people decide, so we will name the station.

Sergei Dorenko: Anyway, are you ready to change the name?

Sergei Sobyanin: Absolutely.

Sergei Dorenko: Are you prepared to change the name or to preserve it?

Sergei Sobyanin: Certainly.

Sergei Dorenko: I see. That’s interesting.

Elvira Khasanshina: May I ask you about healthcare reform? The Moscow Government has shut down the buildings of Hospital No 53, as well as a number of some other hospital buildings. How will you use them?

Sergei Sobyanin: I will answer you. We have shut down two maternity hospitals. Not maternity hospitals, but two buildings of maternity hospitals. We have shut down dilapidated buildings and opened three new, reconstructed buildings whose capacity is much higher. Is this bad?

Sergei Dorenko: Not bad at all.

Sergei Sobyanin: Would you like to give birth in a barn where plaster is falling from the ceiling, or will you opt for a new modern building?

Elvira Khasanshina: I will surely choose a new building.

Sergei Sobyanin: Why should we save old barns?

Sergei Dorenko: I agree with you, but we see the department disappearing...

Elvira Khasanshina: And what will be erected on this site? How will you use this site? Offices...

Sergei Sobyanin: Surely. As a rule, we hand over these buildings to private owners, so that they organise private clinics, hospices or other social...

Sergei Dorenko: I’d like to return to the topic of maternity hospitals, since you mentioned one of them, on Akademik Pavlov Street and Marshal Timoshenko Street near the Molodyozhnaya metro station. They had a massive research department there. And the hospital was hit hard, and the department with it.

Sergei Sobyanin: Look, I’ll tell you what we are doing with departments. Practically all our large clinics have university research departments. In recent years, they have not been working like they did in Soviet times, when a professor would come and say: “This is the best way to treat the patient,” and enthusiastic assistants and interns followed suit. Nothing of the kind takes place now. Patients are treated by hospital physicians, while professors stand apart mumbling something to their trainees, with no right to go near the patients because the professors are not on the hospital staff. This means that in fact all university departments cannot work today as they used to, the old system has been completely destroyed.

As a result, professors who train students cannot touch patients and do not engage in any practical activities, while hospital physicians who carry out surgery and treat patients have no contact with students. This is completely absurd. This is why we are trying to disrupt this system. A big number of clinics are carrying out an experiment together with the Sechenov Medical University when the university people come and begin to treat the patients. Some of our surgeons and doctors get part-time jobs at universities and train the students there, while some professors come to our clinics and deal with the patients. We have started to restore the Soviet system of university clinics. Things are moving slowly, with difficulty. We need revamping the federal law, but even now we are already doing this as a kitchen-table effort. We understand that we should do it.

Sergei Dorenko: For those who have just joined us, we are talking with Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin. Mr Sobyanin, what about these hateful major repairs? By God, I don’t understand this. I used to think in my old life that we paid for some sort of amortisation. I thought that this money was being used for major repairs. Now it turns out that major repairs are a separate item.

Sergei Sobyanin: What amortisation did you pay for?

Sergei Dorenko: We paid for some...

Sergei Sobyanin: No, you did not.

Sergei Dorenko: My wife told me...

Sergei Sobyanin: You did not pay for amortisation, you paid for maintenance.

Sergei Dorenko: We paid something.

Sergei Sobyanin: There are indeed payments for maintenance, such as painting walls, whitewashing ceilings or replacing electric bulbs, that’s all.

Sergei Dorenko: So you want...

Sergei Sobyanin: We don’t want anything, Sergei.

Sergei Dorenko: Look, a guy here says that their term has been set for 2039. Just imagine, 2039!

Sergei Sobyanin: We don’t want anything, Sergei. Did we carry out property privatisation in post-Soviet times?

Sergey Dorenko: Yes, we did.

Sergei Sobyanin: In the past, the owner was responsible for property. Now the owner is not the state but the residents, who have privatised or bought 80 percent of the property in which they live.

Sergei Dorenko: This is true.

Sergei Sobyanin: As a result, this is not state property anymore, it is private property. You must look after it yourselves. What does it take to overhaul a block of flats? Say you want to overhaul your block of flats, but you cannot overhaul it on your own because you have all these neighbours, sometimes a few thousand people live in a block of flats. So you should get them together, hold a meeting, come to an agreement...

Sergei Dorenko: Make calculations.

Sergei Sobyanin: Right, count the money.

Sergei Dorenko: Then they will scratch my eyes out because they will never believe that this is the correct figure.

Sergei Sobyanin: But you’ll never persuade them to hold a meeting. Our experience shows that it’s not easy to persuade half of the tenants to attend a meeting, and it takes a lot of effort to accomplish it. And it’s impossible to agree on the total price of a renovation, so the buildings just start falling apart.

Sergei Dorenko: Please substantiate the 15-rouble sum ... I don’t understand. And please tell us about deadlines. Mr Sobyanin, I’ve experienced the events of 1991 and 1993, when tanks shelled the Russian Parliament. I saw the events of 1998 when Sergei Kiriyenko and Anatoly Chubais explained something about the financial default to us. I’ve seen everything, and you’re telling me that my residential building will be renovated by 2040. It’s still 2015, and I’m thinking that, maybe, I’ll be gone by that time, and won’t really need all this renovation.

Sergei Sobyanin: Mr Dorenko, it’s very simple. The time between two renovations depends on the load and stress rates of load-bearing structures, etc., and it totals 30 years. This is the period between two renovations...

Sergei Dorenko: 30 years?

Sergei Sobyanin: Not more than 30 years. All residential buildings should be renovated over this time period. First of all, if you tell us that 30 years is too much, and that buildings should be renovated every ten years, then not everyone will agree to have their roofs, standpipes and other equipment replaced every ten years. Second, such frequent renovations would cost three times more because you would have to raise funding for three renovations, rather than one. That’s why we’ve compiled the most convenient renovation deadlines. Not all buildings will be renovated by 2035, as you say. They will all be renovated under our three-year deadlines, and you can click on the website and see when your building will be renovated.

Sergei Dorenko: Really?

Sergei Sobyanin: Renovation costs depend on the real cost of materials needed to renovate a building.

Sergei Dorenko: Current costs?

Sergei Sobyanin: Yes, current costs.

Sergei Dorenko: And God knows what happens later.

Sergei Sobyanin: If the tenants of your building have decided that they don’t need city funding, if they have held a meeting, opened a bank account and have chosen a management company, then you’d have to worry about funding for the next five, ten and 20 years. If you’ve chosen city funding, then you won’t have to worry about this. You should raise the funding; and your building will be renovated on schedule, regardless of inflation rates.

Sergei Dorenko: And where will you deposit the funding? I, for one ...

Sergei Sobyanin: We’ll not deposit this funding anywhere, we’ll put it to work right away, and we’ll renovate specific buildings under our deadlines. Plus, we’ll probably loan money to this renovation fund to renovate buildings more quickly.

Sergei Dorenko: I thought I was contributing to the 2040 renovation project.

Sergei Sobyanin: Not at all.

Sergei Dorenko: And that the funding would be kept somewhere.

Sergei Sobyanin: No, Mr Dorenko, this will only happen if you choose a commercial company, and if you conclude an approved agreement. However, these buildings account for only eight percent of all city housing, and the tenants of all other buildings prefer the city fund that stipulates no waiting periods and no interest rates. This is how the fund operates. The fund operates day by day, year after year and will finance the renovation of specific buildings under its deadlines.

Sergei Dorenko: Does this mean that we’re paying for current renovation projects, and that future generations will pay for renovating my building? Is this some kind of a general fund?

Sergei Sobyanin: Yes, this this is a general fund.

Sergei Dorenko: Why 15 roubles? Why not eight? Some are suggesting eight roubles.

Elvira Khasanshina: Two roubles in St. Petersburg.

Sergei Dorenko: Two?!

Elvira Khasanshina: Well, that’s what Yevgeny writes.

Sergei Dorenko: I’m moving to St. Petersburg.

Sergei Sobyanin: Mr Dorenko, we should be responsible and honest. If a renovation project costs 15 roubles [per unit], then we need to stipulate realistic sums. If you have raised seven roubles, rather than 15 as stipulated by a renovation project, then you would run out of funding over the next few years, and your building would be renovated in 60 years, rather than 30. This means that your building would collapse 30 years from now, and officials would tell you that the general fund has no money in it. You’d say that you paid and they’d tell you that it wasn’t enough. And you’d say that you’d paid the required amount.

Sergei Dorenko: I see.

Sergei Sobyanin: Look, you should be responsible in the long-term, and not just in the short-term, and assume responsibility for future developments.

Sergei Dorenko: People are complaining about some routine problems. Some are complaining about a ban on berry sales. As you know, Mr Nemeryuk has forbidden people from the Lenin state farm to sell berries near metro stations. They have lost their entire harvest as a result.

Sergei Sobyanin: This must be some kind of a speculation. We’ve established 120 weekend markets where people can sell their produce anytime. You can send an online application from your office and submit an application. There is room for more vendors, 20 percent of all space is vacant. Come and sell to your heart’s content.

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Source: The website of the Mayor and the Government of Moscow

See also
Vladimir Efimov
16 August 2017
The city has created all the necessary conditions for investors to operate successfully
Vladimir Efimov
Minister of the Moscow City Government, the Head of Department of Economic Policy and Development of Moscow
Natalya Sergunina
02 November 2015
Natalya Sergunina on why Moscow does not fear the crisis and what the city’s government is betting on
Natalya Sergunina
Deputy Moscow Mayor in the Moscow Government of Economic Policy, Property and Land Relations
S.S. Sobyanin
24 September 2015
Sergei Sobyanin’s interview with Moscow FM radio station
S.S. Sobyanin
Mayor of Moscow
S.S. Sobyanin
07 August 2015
Interview with TV-Centre
S.S. Sobyanin
Mayor of Moscow
S.S. Sobyanin
24 March 2015
Moscow Mayor’s commentary for TV Centre television
S.S. Sobyanin
Mayor of Moscow
S.S. Sobyanin
15 February 2015
Sobyanin interviewed for Vesti-Moskva on Rossiya-1
S.S. Sobyanin
Mayor of Moscow
S.S. Sobyanin
10 February 2015
An interview to the TV Tsentr network
S.S. Sobyanin
Mayor of Moscow
S.S. Sobyanin
29 December 2014
Interview with Postscript, a TV-Centre show
S.S. Sobyanin
Mayor of Moscow
S.S. Sobyanin
11 December 2014
Interview with Russia 24
S.S. Sobyanin
Mayor of Moscow