Interview with Rossiyskaya Gazeta

21 April 2014

Sergei Sobyanin: I learn the truth from Moscow residents about the situation in every courtyard and every home

On housing and utilities prices and the fate of the Exhibition of Economic Achievements

Rossiyskaya Gazeta: Mr Sobyanin, Muscovites are asking when they should expect a rise in housing and utilities prices this year and by how much.

Sergei Sobyanin: I would like to immediately reassure all those who are concerned about this issue: Moscow has never seen as small an increase as is expected this year. In 2010, when I had just become Moscow Mayor, prices grew by 22%; one year before, the increase amounted to 25%. It was a standard situation. Today we are increasingly trying to stifle these increases. The dynamics of the last three years shows how price growth is reduced. Last year, we reached 9%; in November of this year, when the increase is going to take place after all, it will amount to just 7%, which is on level with the inflation rate.

Rossiiskaya Gazeta: What will happen to the Ukraine Pavilion?

Sergei Sobyanin: It seems to be in the worst condition of all the monuments. No conservation obligations are being observed. Urgent measures should be taken, which may require to transfer it back to Moscow’s properties. The thing is, a decision was taken earlier to transfer it under Ukraine’s control, but the legal procedure has not been completed. The Ukrainian Rada has not ratified the intergovernmental agreement, so it is not being executed. So, we will ask the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to terminate the agreement unilaterally.

Rossiiskaya Gazeta: How do other former Soviet republics treat their pavilions? Are they ready to back up the idea of the Peoples’ Friendship Fountain with actions?

Sergei Sobyanin: Unfortunately, they are also in no hurry to do something. Only Belarusians hold many exhibitions and fairs. And they have finally began repair work in their pavilion.

Pedestrians and cars

Rossiiskaya Gazeta: Mr Sobyanin, exactly a year ago, you came to our editorial office, bringing a map on developing pedestrian zones expected to be created last summer. Were these plans implemented? Will new pedestrian zones appear this summer?

Sergei Sobyanin: Today I have also brought a map of Moscow pedestrian zones with me. Last year, we created them in the city’s centre and outside the Garden Ring, for example, Nikolskaya Street, Krymskaya Embankment, Bolshaya Dmitrovka Street and others. There is no need to enumerate them, as they have become very popular among citizens. This year, we are going to arrange a 6.5-kilometre long pedestrian route from Gagarina Square to Europa Square. In addition, some streets will become more comfortable for walking, though they are not being converted into pedestrian zones. Among such streets will be Maroseika, Pokrovka and Pyatnitskaya, where car lanes are expected to be narrowed and the pavements are expected to be expanded and beautified, just as was done on Bolshaya Dmitrovka Street, where the pedestrian area was expanded without any harm to drivers. On the contrary, there are fewer traffic jams there, as unorganised parking was eliminated.

Rossiiskaya Gazeta: You have recently met with business representatives at a coffee house on Kamergersky Pereulok to discuss the development of summer retail trade in the city. You have promised that the city will create a mechanism that makes it possible to include the ground floors of buildings in the public space system. This would make it possible to set up additional coffee houses, cafes, restaurants, exhibition centres and other facilities, rather than countless offices and banks, in areas frequented by Moscow residents and tourists. How can this be accomplished?

Sergei Sobyanin: It is possible to accomplish this rather difficult task. We will charge lower taxes on properties being leased to public catering companies, primarily properties located on pedestrian streets.

Rossiiskaya Gazeta: But cars are being parked there more often ...

Sergei Sobyanin: I agree. Cars are being parked there, although their number has decreased. To discourage undisciplined drivers, we tow away 800 cars daily, primarily from pedestrian streets and from the metered parking zone.

Rossiiskaya Gazeta: But one can see cars even on Stoleshnikov Pereulok ... Our correspondent took some photos there on the eve of our meeting with you. The photos show widely spaced posts, so that cars can enter the most accessible pedestrian zone in Moscow, which is located opposite from City Hall. Some cars have been parked right in front of the monument to Yury Dolgoruky. A permit reportedly issued by a deputy chief working with the Moscow division of the State Inspection for Road Traffic Safety was posted on the windshield of one car. Does this mean that some drivers can also enter pedestrian zones?

Sergei Sobyanin: This is obviously an illegal permit. No one receives any official parking permits for that area. Thank you for being vigilant, for spotting parking violations and taking photos. We will deal with every violator personally. But I would like to remind you that hundreds of cars were parked on the square where you spotted the car that aroused your indignation. It was virtually impossible to walk past the monument. And no one was indignant, and everyone believed that this is how things should be.

Rossiiskaya Gazeta: And metered parking space is not empty either, not even after the latest price hikes. Do you plan to raise prices for metered parking space even more, like the New York City authorities have done? Our correspondent in the United States says Manhattan has empty parking space as a result of this measure ...

Sergei Sobyanin: Please ask your correspondent whether there is any parking space on their roads and streets, including Fifth Avenue. To the best of my knowledge, there is none. There are only underground parking facilities. Our parking facilities also have enough space, and it costs 150-200 roubles an hour to park a car there. And there are virtually no empty spaces on Moscow’s roads and streets. What can the city that regulates this process do in this situation? We will not raise prices drastically, but we will probably have to introduce differentiated rates that will soar after the first two or three hours. This will make it possible to rotate car places more quickly. We are currently asking the advice of the expert community in order to see whether this option would suit us. I am confident that we should not make any abrupt moves. In effect, we have gone a long way here over the past two years. At first, people did not comprehend this problem, and they rejected our plans. But, in the long run, they started discussing specific issues that concern administering metered parking areas.

Rossiiskaya Gazeta: They are voicing one more proposal, specifically, the possible introduction of differentiated payments. Accordingly, Moscow residents would pay less, but those arriving from other places would have to pay more. What do you think about this idea? Do you think that this would be fair?

Sergei Sobyanin: I want to say right away that we will never do this. So, this ends the discussion. We live in one and the same country, we have one and the same Constitution, and one and the same set of human rights. Thus, it is impossible to provide discounts in line with the registration principle or the colour of one’s skin.

Friend or Foe

Rossiiskaya Gazeta: Here’s a follow-up to the previous question, albeit on a different topic. And it is raised in nearly every third letter to our newspaper: Dear Mr Sobyanin, are you aware that the rights of Russian citizens temporarily residing in Moscow are different from those who have permanent residence registration? In the past several months the children of Russian citizens who are not registered in Moscow have not been enrolled in kindergartens. Even official temporary registration in the capital does not give the right to enrolment. But we do pay all taxes, including to the city budget," Nadya wrote to Rossiiskaya Gazeta.

Sergei Sobyanin: This issue is quite real. But if we start enrolling children in kindergartens across the board, this question will be raised by Muscovites. That’s why we enrol children who are registered anywhere provided there is an opportunity, if there are vacancies. If there are not, then we give priority to Moscow residents who live here permanently. It cannot be any other way. Especially during the current baby boom in Moscow, the birth-rate is unrivalled by any other Russian city. And another remarkable fact is that the city has had natural population growth for the third year running.

Rossiiskaya Gazeta: Is this the official stance of the city? Is it supported by any legislation?

Sergei Sobyanin: There is a law of the Russian Federation that states that pre-school establishments should first enrol those who live in the vicinity. Live permanently, not temporarily. We can’t inflate kindergartens and schools. Even if we allocated unlimited funds to build them, then there would be no place to build them. The space around the houses is limited. It is already cramped. It is no accident that construction in courtyards leads to protests and a storm of indignation. Right now, we are discussing, for instance, the construction of a primary education block in a city district. There doesn’t seem to be anything wrong with additional classrooms for the youngest pupils nearby. There is a lack of classrooms reaching up to 15 percent. We are trying to start the construction in a virtually barren area. But the residents are going out and protesting.

It is a very complicated matter. Believe me, the Department of Education’s actions are motivated not by Moscow’s likes and dislikes of certain individuals but by its real possibilities.

Rossiiskaya Gazeta: But Moscow also has thousands of foreigners who work here and use all of the city’s infrastructure. Public transport, healthcare, education, and they do not pay anything for that. Moscow residents are bewildered by the fact. According to public opinion surveys, discontent is growing. Is the Moscow Government set to resolve the problem?

Sergei Sobyanin: Undoubtedly. We discussed this many times. What is the difference between Russian and foreign migrant workers? Russians indeed do pay all of the taxes and tolls to the social funds. They totally pay off their stay in Moscow. Moreover, they shape its economy. Foreign workers are a different matter. They do not really pay anything and from this point of view have an advantage over Russians who came to Moscow to work and even Moscow residents.

In his Address to the Federal Assembly, the President signalled to the Russian Government that time has come to solve this issue. At present, a law has been drafted according to which regions will have the right to set the amount of charges for migrant workers (the cost of a work permit patent). We can include all of the city’s costs from their living in the city in that charge. Therefore, we will have economic regulation over the migrant flows. The higher the charge, the fewer the migrants will be hired by employers for their businesses. This is going to be a self-adjusting mechanism, not just a quota as it is now, which can be either traded or issued for a bribe. And here one will have to pay the state no less than Russians do. And Russians pay income tax and social tax, and they pay to the pension and healthcare funds ... That piles up to 43 percent of the payroll budget.

Rossiyskaya Gazeta: Moscow is preparing to host the 2018 FIFA World Cup. Dynamo Stadium is not on the list of stadiums that will be hosting World Cup matches. Does this indicate that its renovation won’t be completed on time?

Sergei Sobyanin: I think that the complex will be commissioned by 2018. After FIFA had scratched it off the list of World Cup stadiums, the investors went ahead and recalculated its design parameters. They cut down on the seating capacity of the stands and rehashed the concept of this stadium. They will resume construction shortly, which will take three years to complete. The stadiums that will be hosting the 2018 World Cup will be ready on time. The construction of Spartak Stadium and a new metro station of the same name that will be located within walking distance from it will be finished this summer. The design development and preparations for the renovation of Luzhniki Stadium are in full swing.

Rossiyskaya Gazeta: Muscovites and foreign investors are closely following the efforts to renovate industrial zones, some of which are located almost in central Moscow. The contest for the development of the territory of the largest Soviet automaker, ZIL, is nearing completion. We are aware that the city will receive 1 billion euros in exchange for the right to carry out this project. How will Muscovites benefit from this transaction?

Sergei Sobyanin: They will get this billion roubles. This money will go toward the needs of the city, such as paying social benefits to Muscovites, and building new roads, utilities and other social facilities. We will construct about 1 million square metres of housing for approximately 30,000 residents. A neighbourhood ice palace and a swimming pool will be built next to kindergartens, schools, parks and a new embankment. A children’s park will be built in the Nagatinskaya Floodplain, which is also part of the redesigned territory.

Rossiyskaya Gazeta: Will a Disneyland really be built in Moscow? They’ve been talking about this for so long that I find it hard to believe now.

Sergei Sobyanin: The project was put on hold because it’s funded entirely by private investors. All prospective investors wanted to develop 80% of the allocated area as retail space and build attractions on the remaining 20%. We have chosen a company that is willing to create a park for children, but it will be run by a different operator. The company has come up with a beautiful project, and I’ll be happy to see it implemented.

Rossiyskaya Gazeta: How long do you think it will take?

Sergei Sobyanin: At least two to three years.

And finally, on transport...

Rossiyskaya Gazeta: Mr Sobyanin, interestingly, questions about traffic congestion and ways the authorities have proposed to deal with them have always been the number one priority in the mail received by Rossiyskaya Gazeta. However, now the problem is not quite as bad, although traffic congestion is still a reality in Moscow. However, you would have to be blind not to see what’s being done in order to ease city traffic. I have very concrete questions for you. In particular, when will the metro reach Moscow suburbs? There was a promise to build a metro station in Kotelniki last year. Will it open this year at least?

Sergei Sobyanin: We would have built it last year, had it not been for delays with the compulsory purchase of land plots to be used for building a transport hub in the Moscow Region. As far as I know, this work is progressing fairly quickly now. We will commission this station before the end of 2014. With regard to other projects to build metro lines in suburban Moscow, the Zhulebino and Kotelniki stations serve as examples to show us that we must be very careful in this area. When we extend such long lines, passengers who board metro cars closer to the city centre have problems boarding, because the trains are already full as they depart from terminal stations.

Building a conventional metro in suburban Moscow is not a good idea. Nobody does that anywhere in the world. Commuter trains are more comfortable for passengers and cheaper to build. It’s much simpler to build additional tracks and have them serviced by commuter trains that run as frequently as the metro. They will be even faster as there will be fewer stations and platforms, so they won’t have to make as many stops as the metro. For example, a short 20-25-minute train ride will take you from Novoperedelkino to downtown Moscow.

New suburban railway tracks are being built in Khimki. In 2016, they will reach Zelenograd. Russian Railways have undertaken the construction of 240-250 kilometres of additional commuter train tracks by 2020. We have a vested interest in this. Therefore, Moscow has also chipped in and set aside 50 billion roubles for this programme. We realise that we’ll never be able to resolve transport problems in Moscow unless we develop commuter transport. Reliable and regular suburban transport is a must. We will build an additional 150 kilometres of subway lines as well. That’s when traffic will improve for everyone to see.

Rossiyskaya Gazeta: Is it true that due to economic problems Moscow is forced to cut back on funding for metro construction? They say that this is precisely why the construction of the Belomorskaya station was cancelled. Muscovites are very concerned about this, since many of them have bought flats in a new housing development in that area in the hope that a metro station will be built there soon.

Sergei Sobyanin: This is not about the money but the local residents. Not everyone was happy with the idea of building a metro station there. The only place where this station can sit is almost at the entrance to a block of flats, so its residents will have to put up with a construction pit for three years. In addition, a huge number of trees will have to be removed before the construction can start. The locals object saying that the Khovrino railway station and the Rechnoi Vokzal metro station are both within a kilometre of their homes, so there’s no need to build anything else. Others say, go ahead and build it. We decided to continue to build the metro line and put the Belomorskaya metro station on hold. Meanwhile, we will continue to talk with the residents.

Rossiyskaya Gazeta: What about the Smaller Moscow Belt Railway, which was supposed to be converted from cargo transport to passenger transit in 2015? In fact, it’s another transport ring, almost like a metro...

Sergei Sobyanin: I hope that the railway builders will finish their work in 2015, as promised, and in 2016 we will make it a full passenger railway system with 35 platforms and transit hubs at the intersections with the metro.

Who tells the truth to the Mayor

Rossiyskaya Gazeta: Mr Sobyanin, the Our City website allowed Muscovites to learn many interesting things about Moscow. The authorities are responding more quickly now as well. Do you use it in your work?

Sergei Sobyanin: You bet! I use the website to see what’s happening in each courtyard and each common area in a block of flats. I have fired 25 officials and heads of maintenance companies based on the information that I obtained from the website.

When someone files a complaint on paper, it takes a while for it to get delivered by mail, and then officials are legally allowed to address it within 30 days. Just try and figure out if what they said was true ... Things are easier with electronic messages. All you have to do is describe a problem and attach a picture. How hard is it to take a picture with your cell phone? Corrective action must be taken within eight days. Everyone tries to respond within eight days. They might write back saying that the issue has been resolved. However, that person may take another picture and send it back thus showing that the official in question is lying. Economic and administrative sanctions with regard to such an official follow, including dismissal.

Thankfully, I don’t have to resort to dismissals too often, since 95% of the complaints are promptly acted upon. The remaining 5% usually involve long or seasonal projects, such as building a new playground. So, not surprisingly, 65%-70% of all complaints are now filed electronically.

I’m familiar with the websites of Paris, New York, and London... Some are very beautiful. But none of them is effective to the point where anyone can ask the Mayor a question and know that they will be heard, and the officials in charge who failed to resolve a particular issue will be punished accordingly. That doesn’t exist anywhere in the world. Our website is unique and I ’m proud of it.

Direct speech

Sergei Sobyanin: I am sometimes asked whether the assistance that we provide to Sevastopol is burdensome for the Moscow budget. The answer is: yes, there are additional expenses involved, but these are pleasant costs. The vast majority of Muscovites support Sevastopol. We used to support Sevastopol in the past and we will continue to do so even more now. We have signed a new agreement on cooperation between our cities.

The Sevastopol administration asked us to help modernise their healthcare system. We have already outlined a programme to supply modern equipment to their outpatient clinics and hospitals. It’ll take us 12-18 months to fully reequip their medical institutions.

People also wonder whether food supplies to Moscow will be affected if the new Ukrainian authorities decide to sever historical ties with Moscow. Yes, we do have contracts for food supplies, but they are easily replaceable. Just like the tubing for metro construction which we used to receive from Dnepropetrovsk, the delivery of which has now stopped in connection with recent events in Kiev. If they don’t change their mind, we will sign agreements with other manufacturers. There’s nothing unique about this tubing. However, a better solution would be not to sever out ties, but strengthen our long-standing cooperation both at the country and the city levels.

See also
В.В. Ефимов
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The city has created all the necessary conditions for investors to operate successfully
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Deputy Mayor of Moscow in the Moscow Government for Economic Policy and Property-Land Relations
Natalya Sergunina
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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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Deputy Moscow Mayor in the Moscow Government of Economic Policy, Property and Land Relations
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Sergei Sobyanin’s interview with Moscow FM radio station
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Sergei Sobyanin’s interview with Govorit Moskva radio station
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Moscow Mayor’s commentary for TV Centre television
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Sobyanin interviewed for Vesti-Moskva on Rossiya-1
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Interview with Postscript, a TV-Centre show
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