PRESIDENT VLADIMIR PUTIN: Good afternoon,
I know that you are combining leisure and study and are attending lectures and holding seminars. This is not the first time we are meeting in this format. I am very pleased to see you. Good afternoon once again.
Today we have the chance to discuss serious issues, whichever issues you wish to raise, of course.
The country is soon to enter a very full and active political season. Much in Russia depends on the outcome of the upcoming events, that is, the parliamentary elections in December this year and the presidential election at the beginning of next year. Today we have representatives here of six youth organisations, but if I remember correctly, we have 100 national youth organisations and nearly 20,000 regional children’s and youth organisations in the country.
I would very much like to see young people play a more active part in our country’s political life than they do at the moment. Currently, it is the older and middle generations who are most active in political life. This is understandable because these people know through their own life experience just what importance the outcome and results of elections have for the country. But this is not the only point of interest as far as the work you carry out among young people is concerned.
We have addressed on many occasions the acute and undesirable problem of nationalism and xenophobia. We are all well aware, as I have said on many occasions, that in a multiethnic country like Russia this kind of thinking is destructive and undermines the country. It is particularly strange to see Nazism advocated in literature and in the Internet. I am deeply convinced that such a situation is only made possible by the ignorance of the people involved. If they were sufficiently well informed and understood just what it is they are saying and promoting, there would be far fewer instances of this kind of propaganda at the very least.
We will also discuss purely youth issues, sport, for example. You know that we have been chosen the host the Olympic Games in Sochi. This is a good opportunity to, as was just discussed at a meeting with the Government Cabinet, develop sport among the population in general. Please feel free to raise any other issues you think we should discuss.
V. YAKEMENKO: I have been involved in the Nashi movement for some time now. This is the third year that we have come here to Lake Seliger, and the second time that we are meeting with you here.
I would like to know your view on two of the problems we think that Russia currently faces.
The first is that we still do not have a clear understanding of Russia’s place in the world. Even worse, a generation of young people in Russia today – and we are well placed to speak about this – the majority, at least, do not link their own life and destiny to that of the country. I will give a few examples to explain what I mean.
Girls, it seems, realise that the population is declining, but they do not want to have three children and always find a reason to explain their decision, saying they have no money or don’t have an apartment. The country needs to have an army it would seem, but young men do not want to serve in it. We need to pay our taxes it would seem, but it’s always someone else who should do the actual paying. Corruption is a bad and unfair thing it would seem, but that does not stop some people from sorting out their problems with the traffic police by resorting to corruption.
This all suggests that a large number of young people in the country think that there are other people who are supposed to deal with all these issues, but not they themselves. I think – and I might be wrong – that the strength of the organisations represented here today is clearly not yet enough.
This brings me to a question. Apart from the various public groups, organisations from the youth affairs committee to pioneers camps are involved in working with young people. If we want our future to be clearer and more understandable, at least in five or ten years’ time, we need help. What kind of help? Either the people currently responsible for work with young people, or at least a large part of their number, should leave and open the way to those who really do understand what needs to be done and can provide an effective model for work, or perhaps we should consider establishing a single centre for implementing youth policy, a sort of youth policy corporation.
Russia has already taken the road of putting together corporations that ensure its security and provide insurance for its development. We will not allow our strategic resources to fall into other hands. Perhaps we should think about the fact that as vital a resource as young people needs clear and precise central management. Then again, perhaps this is not the case. After all, this has already been tried and did not always produce good results. This is why I would like to know your view on the issue.
VLADIMIR PUTIN: Let’s not just blame the girls for not wanting to have children. Men also have to be willing to take on responsibility for the family. Both husband and wife need to want to have children and to be able to do so.
Regarding the other points you raised, we will look at all of this in more detail. But I think that creating some kind of centralised organisation to implement youth policy is a thing of the past. The state’s job is to put in place the conditions for young people to be able to realise their professional potential and to realise themselves above all in everyday life, in art, in politics, in whichever area they wish. I very much hope that political parties will include a greater number of young people on their lists for the elections. And I hope that those who are not actually on the lists will nonetheless make active use of their electoral rights and take an active part in the election campaign, work as assistants, agitators and so on.
The state’s job is to create the conditions for young people to realise their potential and be competitive. The state’s principal responsibility as I see it is to give every young person confidence in their own strength, give them belief in their own ability to be successful and competitive. This will help make the entire country competitive. Everything else is built on top of this.
S. FATEEV: I am the leader of Moscow Region political environmentalists’ movement Mestniye (=Locals). I would just like to briefly explain what political environmentalism is as we understand it.
Our movement supports not only a clean environment but also clean politics.
As part of our environmental work we organise quite large-scale environmental campaigns, Clean Moscow Region, several times a year (usually twice a year). More than 30,000 members of our movement take part in these campaigns.
Everybody knows that there is a big problem in the Moscow Region with unauthorised rubbish dumps and landfills. We have already begun meeting with officials and taking action and this is having an effect – we are moving towards finding a solution to this problem.
The second issue is the interethnic issue. As part of our interethnic relations programme we are carrying out the following work. The Moscow Region today is home to a large number of different ethnic communities and sometimes inappropriate behaviour on their part provokes pro-fascist movements into extremist activity and inciting interethnic hatred. What are we doing to prevent this sort of thing from happening in the Moscow Region? First, we have taken on the responsibility of carrying out inspections at the markets and closely monitoring the implementation of the federal law on protecting Russian producers’ rights. This law is already in effect at the markets in the Moscow and other regions. It is having a big impact, but is not always being implemented in all districts, even in the Moscow Region, as it should be. On the outside everything seems to be in order, but when you start looking a bit behind the scenes you see that the old system is still in place.
The second aspect of our activity is that we work with young people and try to explain to them that there are many opposition movements today that seek to resolve all our interethnic problems through the use of force, that is, they resort to extremism. We have asked the prosecutor’s office to investigate the activities of one such organisation, the Movement against Illegal Migration. This investigation is being carried out and we are constantly passing on additional facts.
Our main task is to stop any extremist organisation from spreading interethnic hatred in Moscow Region and in Russia as a whole. At the same time, we also address the inappropriate behaviour of all migrants from the various regions living in the Moscow Region in order to ensure that their behaviour does not create excuses for stirring up interethnic hatred. The fact that we are carrying out this sort of monitoring work today leads us to conclude that the interethnic relations issue is a very serious problem facing our country. In the future, this autumn most likely, if there is to be provocation of any sort, it will probably have to do precisely with interethnic relations.
I would like to take this opportunity to say that our movement invites everyone to support our work to help resolve the interethnic relations issue. We are already cooperating with the organisations present here, the organisations we know, on this issue.
That is all I wanted to say. Thank you.
VLADIMIR PUTIN: As far as environmentalism is concerned, as we know, there is always conflict between development and preserving nature. We always face the question of how to ensure development while at the same time preserving nature. This is what environmentalism is all about. In this respect we need, of course, to raise people’s awareness of these issues. We need to understand that development makes no sense if we do not also preserve our natural environment. But we need development too. This is why we place great hopes on young scientists and young entrepreneurs who have modern thinking and can make effective decisions while protecting the environment at the same time. We need new technology, new development, new forms of organisation.
As far as political environmentalism is concerned, you have essentially covered the subject I already mentioned and I agree with your words. Of course, people who come to the Russian Federation need to observe our laws, traditions and customs. This is essential, and everyone who comes here should be aware of this. There are plenty of proverbs and sayings about how important this is, when in Rome, do as the Romans do and so on. Misunderstandings in this area can, of course, create fertile soil for inciting interethnic hatred within the country. But whatever turn events take, great-state chauvinism is unacceptable – no matter what turn events take. If someone is behaving inappropriately or not observing Russian laws, we need to call on them to abide by our laws, but we must use only lawful means to achieve this.
Here we run up against another problem, that of how effectively our bodies of power actually work. If immigrant traders buy up wholesale the local authorities or law enforcement agencies and people see that they have no one to turn to in order to protect their rights, then of course spontaneous protests break out.
I believe you could be to examining this aspect of the issue and looking at how the official bodies are managing their responsibilities. It would be good to take a look from the inside, from the grass roots.
M. DROKOVA: Good afternoon, Vladimir Vladimirovich. I am a commissar in the Nashi movement and head of the Moscow Regional headquarters.
When I saw the head of the International Olympic Committee hold up the panel with Sochi-2014 on it on July 4, my biggest wish was to congratulate you on this decision.
VLADIMIR PUTIN: Thank you.
M. DROKOVA: Now the euphoria of victory has subsided a little and I have a question.
Is Sochi’s victory really recognition that Russia is a great nation and that other countries cannot ignore it? Or does the credit go more to your personal charm, your personal contacts and the energy that you put into this work? I would like to hear your answer to this question.
VLADIMIR PUTIN: This is a straightforward question and I think that many would agree with me: if we had not been able to restore Russia’s territorial integrity, if we had not been able to take the Caucasus out of the state of conflict it was in five-seven years ago, and if we had not been able to bring about a real turnaround in the economic and social situation, we wouldn’t have had the faintest hope of being able to host the Olympic Games.
This victory is the fruit of all of our work, the work of our entire people over these last six or seven years. This was the main condition that made our victory possible, and without it we would have no Olympic Games.
A second important point I want to note is that I spoke with the members of the International Olympic Committee (I spent a lot of time with them, I arrived the day before the voting and spoke with them individually, which is not forbidden by the Olympic charter and the Olympic rules), and during 12 hours before the voting, from midday to midnight, I met with the IOC members practically without stopping. Then I went to a reception with them and we continued our discussions. The point of all this is that the majority of IOC members said quite frankly that, “we would like to support today’s Russia”. This is very important because it means that our country is needed on the international stage as a strong and independent state with its own views and position and with the possibility for defending this independent position in the international arena. This is something the world needs very much today. I have no doubt that this is indeed the situation and my discussions with the IOC members provided the clearest confirmation. This is a signal that overall we are on the right road. The people who will come from your organisations into the executive and legislative branches of power must be aware of this and must make every effort to continue pursuing our country’s development after the parliamentary election and after the presidential election in March 2008.
Of course, the Olympic Bid Committee also worked well. They were reliable and effective and did a lot to ensure this victory. Incidentally, a lot of young people worked there too, energetic and knowledgeable young people, who knew what needed to be done, spoke foreign languages and already had good experience in other areas, including in business and administrative work.
As I have already said and will now say again, we do not just want to build new sports facilities but also put more effort into developing mass sport, especially among young people. We want sport to reach out to girls and boys in the street and give them a real alternative to drugs of all kinds, crime and so on.
As you know we are allocating a large amount of money to the Olympics, but I want to say again that of the $12 billion that will be spent on the Olympic preparations, $5 billion will come from private investment. This private sector money should go into profit-turning projects such as hotels, ski lifts and so on that are directly related to business. The rest of the investment will come from the state (two thirds), and this money will be spent on developing the infrastructure in southern Russia: transport, communications, roads, tunnels, bridges, sewerage networks and so on. It is shameful to admit that Sochi still does not have a normal sewerage system. This development will help to resolve environmental problems. Of course, we will also be building sports facilities, facilities for mass sport and for the national teams. After the collapse of the Soviet Union we lost nearly all the alpine sports centres where our Olympic athletes could train. Where are all of them? They are in Kazakhstan, in Georgia, in Armenia and I think in Moldova and a centre in Latvia. This is thus an important issue for us.
Everything that has been planned and all the money that will be spent preparing for these Olympics will, without any exaggeration, serve millions of people for decades to come and develop sport in this country.
This is a significant victory and a positive victory.
N. SHULGA: I am Natalya Shulga, a commissar in the Nashi movement. In three years of work in street campaign methods I have learned to lead people onto the streets and build teams around specific state goals.
It so happened that I had the luck to be in London doing a long-term internship and right at the time when the media was still talking about Politkovskaya and had just begun talking about the Litvinenko affair. And then there was the whole affair with Anthony Brenton going on in the background in Moscow.
I already had experience at working with local media and this made me aware of the problem, namely, that over a period of years the media there has built up a clearly negative image of Russia and it is impossible to break this down from the outside. It occurred to me then that it would be good if we could send hundreds of people there, people who have come through our movement and who have made the values of sovereign democracy their own personal values and see the state’s goals as their personal goals. There, these people, in good English and without imposing anything, could start to form a subculture and help to explain the idea of sovereign democracy for the Western audience, correcting Russia’s negative image in our favour.
The question is one of what corrections to make to our image. Unfortunately, I was not able to meet with diplomats there and hear their position. I would like to know what line do Russia’s diplomats follow there, what image are they forming and what image do we need?
I have a second question. Do you see our movement, Nashi, as a resource that can be used to build relations between London and Moscow? Could we perform the function of what would essentially be an institute for international politics? Thank you.
VLADIMIR PUTIN: Clearly, your movement should be involved in all different issues, including international issues. There are no problems in this respect. On the contrary, I welcome and support your involvement.
As for whether you can act as intermediaries of a sort in building our relations with individual countries, with the United Kingdom in this case, yes, you can. Is there a need for you to do so in this case? No, there is no need. We are not spoiling our relations with them; let them build relations with us themselves.
Regarding your suggestions on correcting Russia’s image, I think there is no need. What should we correct? Do you know why this goes on, how it happens? This is done in order to create the required atmosphere concerning Russia that will help others pursue their own aims within our country, soften our position on important international issues and force us to make decisions that are in our partners’ advantage.
These are the objectives pursued and no matter what you do, you will not be able to change the minds of those who are doing this. They will continue blindly repeating what they’ve been told to say, what they’ve been paid to say. They are just doing their work. This is just an instrument for putting pressure on Russia. There is no reason for us to start playing their game. We need simply to concentrate on the positive, improve the social, economic and political situation in our country, make it freer and more democratic, fight excess bureaucracy, corruption and so on.
It used to be said that Russia had two big problems – roads and fools. I think that we have two other big problems today – incompetence and corruption. These are two of the biggest problems facing Russia today. Young people can do a great deal in this respect. I say this in all seriousness because young people are not burdened with the negative experience of the past and have more energy and more modern knowledge. In this sense young people can play a key part in resolving both of the big problems I just named.
Now, regarding the affairs that have been causing such a stir, I am sure you have already discussed this and heard my views, but I will repeat them again.
What is the root of the problem that our British partners are currently making such a fuss about? A tragedy took place – the death of Litvinenko in London. The British suspect a Russian citizen – Lugovoy – and they want to extradite him to the UK. Meanwhile, thirty people wanted by our law enforcement services for committing serious and very serious crimes are hiding in London and the British have not considered for an instant handing them over to Russia.
They have had similar problems – on a lesser scale, it is true – with the United States, with France and with other countries. They never hand over people hiding on their territory, including people suspected and accused of terrorist activity. But they make big demands of other countries, including our country. They say we should change our Constitution – advice that I view as insulting for our country and our people. They need to change their thinking and not tell us to change our Constitution. Let me tell you why. They need to change their thinking because what they are suggesting is clearly a relic of a colonial-era mindset. They have perhaps forgotten that Britain is no longer a colonial power, that they have no colonies now, and that Russia, fortunately, never was a British colony. Giving this kind of advice is an insult to them themselves and shows that their mindset is still stuck in the twentieth or even in the nineteenth century.
A country must respect its partners. When we see respect for ourselves, we will show respect for them.
A. ZYUKINA: A month ago, two of my friends and I from Tula went to Estonia to take part in the ‘memorial watch’ at the site of the Bronze Soldier monument that was dismantled. We were taken into custody by the Estonian police, who said that our action was a threat to national security. We spent 10 hours in a police cell and were then deported and have now been banned from entering European Union countries for ten years.
On the train to Estonia I was thinking about how during the 1990s Russia was very friendly in its relations with the whole world, but at the same time we lost our identity. We were a weak country. Now we have become much stronger and there are many in the world who do not like this, many who are already knocking at our door and attempting to threaten us or weaken our country. I think that the state needs to work together with society to resolve these sorts of serious problems. What is your view?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: You have set out your position very correctly. Of course the state and civil society need to be in constant dialogue. The views of the state and those of civic organisations will not always coincide. Moreover, they are often different. Civic organisations have a better feeling for what the public wants and needs, and they should have the chance to influence state policy. But there are issues that require consolidation between the public and the state, and one of these issues is, of course, our position in the world.
I am happy to see that with regard to some of the vital issues facing our country there is consolidation – at least, at parliamentary level I often see this consolidation when it comes to domestic policy issues, and even defence, security and social issues. The parties currently represented in the State Duma often hold very active discussions and debates, but there are some issues on which they achieve a consolidated position, and this is pleasing to see. This concerns above all the issue of Russia’s place in the world.
Concerning your trip to Tallinn, the reaction of the Estonian authorities is understandable. I think this is the continuation of their mistaken policy of attempting to revise the past. The fact that they put you behind bars only aggravates this mistake. The fact that you have been banned from entering the European Union shows that some European countries have consolidated behind this mistaken position and the Estonian authorities are able to go ahead with their decisions, which is very harmful. But this gives us the chance to continue our efforts to protect our interests.
The question is not one of you personally, but simply of the fact that it is unacceptable that people should come to a country to demonstrate their attitude towards the authorities’ actions and should be punished for this. What is the difference between them and other countries that behave in the same way? They criticise Belarus, for example, for its harsh line in domestic political affairs, but are they any better in this case?
It is good that you have spoken about this. I think that, through the efforts of civic organisations and youth movements and the work carried out at state level, we will be able to reverse this foolish decision, and not just so as to give you the possibility of travelling to these countries (we have more interesting things than these countries) but so as to address the fact itself. This gives us the opportunity to ensure we keep working in the right direction.