Yeltsin on Arms, Smoking, and His Hair

On Tuesday, Russian President Boris Yeltsin participated in an on-line chat on the MSNBC Web site (www.msnbc.com). Excerpts of the president's half-hour quizzing from Internet users all over the world follow:

Ronald Marks, Toronto, Canada:

Building a strong economy means controlling crime. How can Russia ever fight crime when it doesn't pay its militia [police] properly?

Yeltsin: In comparison with a developed country, salaries in Russia are definitely lower, and not only for the police, but for teachers, doctors, and others. But this does not mean that teachers do not educate, and doctors do not cure, and police do not do their jobs. No.

I can give you an example: Last year the number of crimes in Russian decreased by 17 percent, and of course I think that in the future reducing the number of crimes will continue. Most importantly for us, however, is to ... constantly expose the reasons for crime.

It so happens that, for example, in the economics sphere, there were command politics in the economy, that there was a situation when someone commanded something, he was in a position to have privileges which [were] used and used again to bribe [other people]. This is economic crime.

Therefore we put in place an anti-corruption system....

Of course I must say that it is very important to have competition supported by government legislation.... It is important, for example, that we have the financing for a system of self-government. All these measures are not connected to the salary of the police, but they concern stopping crime.

From Sweden: Questions about the Russian agriculture system still being owned by the State.

Yeltsin: I beg your pardon, but the way to ask your question is not correct. The state property long ago was transferred to the user. The problem is to ensure the rights of the actual user.... Unfortunately, there is no legal guarantee of private property in the Russian Constitution, and I must encourage it to be adopted....

joe curious: You mentioned your daughter as a presidential candidate awhile ago. Do you really believe Russia is ready for a woman president?

Yeltsin: First, I never spoke about that. Never. Second, our society is not prepared for [it], not for my daughter or any other woman at this time.

Elizabeth from Ireland: You have wonderful hair. Irish have wonderful hair. Do you have any relatives in Ireland?

Yeltsin: I am from the Urals, where there is a connecting line between Europe and Asia. In fact, I know that these people from Urals have never reached [Ireland].... I think here is a similarity probably. I wouldn't say that it would attract everyone's attention. I am taking care of my hair. The women in my family are always looking after me.

Victor Krasin, Russia: Hello, Boris Nicolaevich! I've a question about India and its nuclear program. Are you about to associate with other big powers to block India's nuclear plans?

Yeltsin: I think that we put forward the initiative to reduce nuclear armament ... and after that we signed with Bill Clinton the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty [II], and I think in the very near future will be a ratification of this Treaty [in the Duma].... We not only support but we put forward this initiative and we try to drag others to the floor of this initiative as well.... India is a friendly country... we have very good relations with it and it was a surprise to us - a test of nuclear weapons. Of course, my Foreign Ministry expressed protest that we cannot decrease categorically the nuclear tests and on my visit to India I will do my best to resolve the problem with India.

Robert from Netherlands: What is your attitude on smoking?

Yeltsin: Never in my life I've smoked! ... I feel bad when someone or my friend is smoking close to me. They know about that and they try not to smoke when they are near me. I cannot stand it. And I think, for society, we shouldn't buy [cigarettes].

MSNB Host Chris Donohue: It seems almost impolite not to ask: What do your doctors say about your health?

Yeltsin: ... I am trying to prove that I am in good shape. There was an operation 1.5 years ago, but now, according to a team of medical workers, including American, German doctors, I am in GOOD health. Let us try to prove to each other who is in better health! But I must tell you that I feel well today. I've been working from 5 a.m. I woke up at 4 a.m., and I have been working intensively....The Communists in this country, they put forward this question during the election, but I don't think that you are Communists. I have full respect for you. You just want to know the truth, and I am telling you the truth. I am in good health. We don't know what will happen in our lives, but now I am in good health. As for the presidency, for the year 2000, we still have two years.

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