Interview with Russia 24

11 December 2014

Russia 24: Good afternoon, Mr Sobyanin.

Sergei Sobyanin: Hello, Yuri.

Russia 24: Frankly speaking, I’d like to ask you a lot of questions concerning transport problems and healthcare reform, but I know that a big interview on the 2014 results is scheduled for the near future, so let’s leave some questions for then and focus on the forum. However, I still hope we’ll touch upon the most pressing issues.

As for the forum, how do you evaluate this event? Is it important and appropriate in the current difficult economic situation? After all, people are mainly talking about cutbacks now, while you are talking about development.

Sergei Sobyanin: To ensure development, we must always think about it, not about cuts, otherwise we can bury ourselves saying that everything is bad, a crisis has broken out, let’s scale the work down. Nothing of the sort. Moscow isn’t suffering any drastic effects of the crisis, and the volume of investment has even increased a little compared to last year.

The same is true for economic development. We can’t say we don’t have problems — of course we do, but they are not critical today, and Moscow is continuing to develop. The forum is aimed at showing our development priorities and exchanging experience in addressing problems with other cities.

I must say that Moscow has never witnessed such interest from foreign experts and city mayors as it is witnessing now. This year’s forum has brought together over 4,000 experts from 20 countries. This shows their great interest in the development of Moscow and Russia as a whole.

Russia 24: As far as I understand, Moscow is starting a new stage in its development. What is your view of this stage and its strategy?

Sergei Sobyanin: The next day of the forum will be devoted to Moscow, to the new stage of development. Well, it’s relative because Moscow is permanently developing, and yet we could call it a new stage. For me, its essence is this: we have made a significant effort to prepare the development of education, healthcare, the transport system, environmental protection and public spaces. All of this underlying work begins to produce effect. This can be seen in a better quality of life, better conditions of the operation of public transport, and more comfortable environment in the city.

During the next stage, we will have not only [better] quantity indicators, but also quality growth and quality development of Moscow.

Russia 24: How will the sanctions and this complicated economic infrastructure tell on your reforms and plans?

Sergei Sobyanin: Of course, they will affect our development. Yet I believe that investors and Russian businesses will realign and close the niches left by foreign investors. At least, judging by the current situation, the current demand for investment projects offered by Moscow, I do not see that investors are fleeing and that investment is being reduced. On the contrary, practically every project that we offer investors, meets demand.

Moreover, our industrial parks and technology parks are in demand.

Russia 24: Let’s speak about New Moscow: how do you see it? Currently, we can see large-scale housing construction. How will Moscow look in the long term?

Sergei Sobyanin: Well, large-scale housing construction is not exclusive anymore for the new territories. In the last two years we have changed the trend, and now we create more jobs than residences. And this is important, the strategic development of these territories. Not only are we constructing housing, but we are also creating jobs not only for those who will reside there, but also for the districts around the new territories where the number of jobs is scarce. Those residents have to travel to central Moscow to seek jobs. This will create a more comfortable environment in the entire Moscow, and offset housing, jobs, economy and general development.

Of course, we will implement large-scale environmental projects and construction of new parks. By the way, we have already built three new parks on the new territories.

Russia 24: As far as the New Moscow districts are concerned, plans included building a large administrative and business centre in the area of Kommunarka village. Will you implement these plans?

Sergei Sobyanin: We have practically completed draft city planning, and this will be submitted for public discussion; then we will approve it and start to implement the project. All preparatory urban development solutions have been elaborated. Moreover, we have an urban development plan for the entire New Moscow. We will offer it for public discussion shortly.

Russia 24: You mentioned those who commute in the morning to central Moscow and return in the evening. You mentioned the issue of transport problems. So I want to ask you: what are you planning on paid entrance to Moscow or other zones?

Sergei Sobyanin: Talk that the Moscow Government has taken a decision regarding paid entrance is just a newspaper hoax. We have taken no decisions on this issue. Moreover, we have never discussed this. I believe that in the current adverse situation when the incomes of the population are plummeting, or at least, are not growing as fast as in the previous years, it is very hard and problematic to take such decisions.

So, if anyone wants to discuss this theme, please, we have enough platforms for a discussion with experts. This issue should be discussed seriously and attentively with residents. Only after this we will be able to take any decisions.

Russia 24: One of the sessions at the forum is focused on cultural dialogue. How do you see this dialogue? How can illegal migration issues be resolved? Do you believe that some districts in Moscow might turn into a kind of ghetto?

Sergei Sobyanin: That shouldn’t be allowed to happen. We heard from our colleagues in Singapore about their consistent efforts to prevent this type of ethnically homogenous district from emerging. Their policy is to have people of different ethnicities and religions live in mixed neighbourhoods. It is very important. I hope we won’t have these ethnically homogenous places in Moscow. Anyway, so far, not a single one has sprung up in the city. Speaking of migration, we should keep in mind that there are two types of migration: one is immigration when people not only come to Moscow but obtain a resident permit and, finally, settle down in the city; and the other one is labour migration when people only come to Moscow to earn money and go home.

Now, there are not many migrants seeking Russian citizenship in Moscow. Their number is so small that the city can’t be compared with New York or London or any other city for that matter. However, hundreds of thousands of people from the CIS countries come to Moscow to work. Of course, this process must be regulated, which is why a new federal law was enacted. I believe that next year we’ll introduce important economic levers, so that foreign nationals and Russian citizens seeking a job in Moscow have equal employment opportunities.

Russia 24: Another session at the forum is devoted to mega-projects. Of course, the football World Cup is a mega-project for Moscow — not only for Moscow but we are speaking about Moscow right now. Please, tell about the preparations for this event. What has already been done and what is yet to be done?

Sergei Sobyanin: We’re making faster progress than necessary. The 40,000-seat Spartak Stadium has been commissioned, and it already hosts football matches. We’ve opened a metro station for the convenience of football fans. Luzhniki is another giant stadium, and is seen as the main one: renovation there is in full swing and I believe we’ll meet the deadline specified by FIFA, as well as its requirements. The rest of the city’s infrastructure, including transport, hotels, shops and airports, is basically ready to accommodate the spectators and fans who will come to Moscow.

Russia 24: You mentioned a metro station. I want to get back to the issue of transport. What effect might the economic situation have on the metro construction plans? Are you thinking of trimming spending on this project? The second part of my question, if you don’t mind, is about the ambitious plans to develop the Smaller Moscow Belt Railway (SMBR): what are your thoughts on this transport artery?

Sergei Sobyanin: Cutting investment in transport infrastructure is the last thing we should do. Roads, metro, the SMBR and commuter traffic are key to the economic development of the city and the whole country. In his Address to the Federal Assembly, President Vladimir Putin — although he had been expected to call for cuts to investment — said that we had to double road construction and infrastructure projects because this is a driver of economic development and, in the case of Moscow, will improve the connectivity of various parts of the city. So, we are not revising downwards our plans to develop transport infrastructure. We will keep building and we won’t slash spending on our road construction projects in the next few years and investment in building new metro stations will be increasing — not shrinking.

Russia 24: Will the SMBR be incorporated into the metro system or will it operate independently of the metro?

Sergei Sobyanin: We commonly refer to it as the second interchange circuit because today we’re building the third underground interchange circuit. In fact, the SMBR is the second interchange circuit located on the ground, which is connected to metro stations and intersects with commuter lines. The SMBR covers the central part of the city, where industrial zones were previously located. I believe that when passenger service is launched, central Moscow will quickly start to take on people-friendly features and provide local residents a better quality of life.

Russia 24: In conclusion, I want to touch on culture, tourism and recreation. What in your view should be done as a matter of top priority to develop this industry?

Sergei Sobyanin: Many say that this is not the right time for improvement projects, such as parks, pedestrian-only streets and squares, and open spaces, and suggest mothballing all of them. I believe that improvement of public spaces is likely to give the city a competitive advantage. If we want to attract people and investment and have a sustainable economy we should not cut investment — rather we should encourage more investment to make the city comfortable and people-friendly.

Russia 24: My last question is sensitive. Human rights activists and architectural organisations focused on preservation have recently criticised some decisions to demolish monuments or sites that must be included on the cultural heritage list. How would you comment on this situation?

Sergei Sobyanin: First, we haven’t pulled down a single listed building in the city. Moreover, we haven’t removed a single monument which is even just a candidate for heritage lists. An ambitious heritage restoration programme is underway in Moscow. It includes about 300 landmarks, while in 2010 not more than ten monuments were undergoing renovation. The city, private investors and the federal government inject over 15 billion roubles in restoration projects annually. The city has considerably tightened the requirements for the owners of listed buildings. We’ve developed procedures for taking away privately-owned buildings that are not being properly maintained in order to renovate them at our own expense if investors prove not to be up to the mark. All this provides a great incentive for investors to renovate our historic monuments. The number of monuments that need urgent action to prevent further deterioration has dropped by almost a third over the past few years. I believe that we should speak about things that are really happening, instead of inventing stories.

Russia 24: So, there are no grounds for worrying?

Sergei Sobyanin: In my view, preserving cultural monuments is our top priority. We are open to dialogue with everyone and we are ready to work with everyone.

Russia 24: Thank you for your detailed and interesting answers.

Sergei Sobyanin: Thank you. Take care.

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

See also
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Natalya Sergunina on why Moscow does not fear the crisis and what the city’s government is betting on
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