Excerpts from transcript of meeting of the Council for Civil Society and Human Rights
President of Russia Vladimir Putin: Good afternoon, colleagues,
I would like to begin by thanking you for your extensive and substantive work. We have had a detailed discussion with Mr Fedotov [Presidential Adviser, Chairman of the Council for Civil Society and Human Rights] of your projects, your work, the difficulties you had and what you have managed to achieve. I am happy to say that you covered a broad range of issues in a variety of areas: education, healthcare, environmental protection, human rights and a number of matters pertaining to the judicial and penitentiary systems. I would like to specifically note your efforts to support refugees and ensure their rights. Primarily refugees from southeast Ukraine.
It is important that the Council’s activities covered not only the capital and major cities, but small towns and settlements as well. You travel to the regions regularly to get to know the situation there. This gives you an opportunity to have a direct exchange with your colleagues and, most importantly, maintain a live direct dialogue with the citizens.
The efficiency of such an approach is obvious. I suggest that today we discuss the results of this work, the proposals that have come up and consider your further action.
Every year a growing number of our citizens join charitable and socially significant projects. Ever more people are trying to become part of various public initiatives. This growing civic awareness is important and needs to be supported.
I would like to stress that the state will continue to pay special attention to the development of human rights and civil society institutions. We have discussed financial matters as well. We all know that we have plenty of problems with the economy in general and with the budget. But we will nevertheless try to maintain a number of programmes that have been launched and are working efficiently. This applies to grants in the first place. In 2015, they will amount to 4.2 billion rubles. There are some regional grants, an area where you and your colleagues manage to work directly with the people. We have agreed to work this out with the Finance Ministry.
Following the results of three contests, non-commercial organisations from 78 Russian regions have already received grants, including in new areas of activity. I would like to remind you that starting from 2015, the list of areas where grants are issued was extended to include such spheres as labour rights protection, search and support for gifted children and young people, and assistance to people with disabilities and pensioners.
Overall, it should be noted that the role of socially oriented organisations, the so-called third sector, is growing all over the world. Russia is no exception here. Today we have over 670,000 people working in non-commercial organisations. Given the existing demand, this is not the limit.
This demand does not only come from those who need support or care. Every year a growing number of our citizens join charitable and socially significant projects. Ever more people are trying to become part of various public initiatives. This growing civic awareness is important, of course, and needs to be supported. This support, as we have discussed, should include encouragement and special notice to those who for many years have been setting an example of sincere and dedicated service to the people. With this in mind, we have resolved to set up an annual National Award of 2.5 million rubles for outstanding achievements in charitable work.
The institution of volunteering and patronage should receive a proper assessment from the state. The same goes for efforts aimed at protecting human and civil rights and freedoms, at strengthening and developing civil society institutions.
Charity, as we all know, is a special type of activity. It does not expect to be rewarded. Overall, this lofty and dignified cause is part of our national tradition, an inseparable part of any civilised society.
However, voluntary help to people around you, the very institution of volunteering and patronage should receive not only broad public acclaim, but also a proper assessment from the state.
The same goes for efforts aimed at protecting human and civil rights and freedoms, at strengthening and developing civil society institutions. Here we have also established a Russian Federation National Award to be presented annually for outstanding achievements in human rights activity and in the same amount as the one for charity.
We are close to implementing another project we discussed earlier and also today with the Council Chairman. This has to do with opening in Moscow of a memorial to victims of political repressions. This is one of the most bitter and difficult pages of country’s history. However, it is just as educational as are the victories and triumphs, and it requires fairness and responsibility as it teaches the current and future generations a very important lesson.
The State Museum of GULAG History held a contest, and some of our colleagues from this Council were on the jury. Of 336 projects, different in idea and design, one was selected with a very concise and meaningful title – the Wall of Sorrow. The memorial is to be erected at the crossing of Sakharov Prospect and Sadovo-Spasskaya Street. I find it symbolic that it will be financed not only by the state, but also through donations.
The role of socially oriented organisations is growing all over the world. Russia is no exception here. The state will continue to pay special attention to the development of human rights and civil society institutions.
I would like to note that the fact that an enormous number of people are willing to be involved in commemorating the victims of repression confirms the timeliness of this idea. It also shows that the people are not indifferent to preserving our common historical memory.
This is a very positive and essential thing. Respect for one’s history, the desire to learn about one’s country, to save and create monuments are all evidence of a mature society and state, which means they are capable of further development.
Let us now proceed to our agenda.
(Regarding Syria) I dwelt in sufficient detail yesterday on what motivated our actions – other countries have been carrying out airstrikes on Syrian territory without a UN Security Council resolution or a corresponding request from the official Syrian authorities for over a year now. We have such a request and we intend to target terrorist organisations specifically.
As for media reports that civilians suffer, we are prepared for such information attacks. I would like to draw you attention to the fact that the first reports about civilian casualties appeared before our craft were airborne. This does not mean, however, that we should not pay heed to such information. This is exactly why we are establishing contacts between our special services and those of the US and between the Defence Ministry and the Pentagon. This work is underway. I hope it will result in the creation of some permanent mechanism. Meanwhile, we have set up another mechanism – and international one – in Baghdad, which involves several regional countries, and there is a constant information exchange underway there.
(Regarding human rights organisations, non-commercial organisations, and the law on foreign agents) An overwhelming majority of states, almost all in fact, have a rule that forbids funding internal political activities from foreign financial sources. What I do agree with is that the term ‘political activity’ should not be vague, or stretch like rubber, but it should have a uniform definition. If the term is not precisely defined, representatives of the authorities, the Justice Ministry or anyone else, should not try to make it cover anything they like. I agree that we need to consider this. Mr Volodin [First Deputy Chief of Staff of the Presidential Executive Office] here is saying that corresponding proposals will be made within the next three months.
Regarding the proposal that we should turn to our philanthropists, to financial organisations and to private businesses for support. Ms Alekseyeva [Chairwoman of the Moscow Helsinki Group] said that in the past, when they were only starting out, there were no other sources of funding but foreign ones, this is true and this is understandable. However, we cannot say that we do not have such sources today. This year we have allocated 5 billion rubles for these purposes. Of course, there is never enough money, and 10 or 25 would have been better, but we are doing what we can. Previously, as you may know, we did not allocate any money at all.
Now about the philanthropists and businesses. I fully support this call and believe that all of us together, and I personally should appeal to them right now publicly. I hope the media will spread this information. I am addressing all our citizens, all businesses and associations to assist non-commercial organisations, including human rights organisations in every way possible. This would definitely benefit the development of civil society.
(Responding to a statement by Yevgeny Yasin, Academic Supervisor of the National Research University Higher School of Economics). As for raising the role of the state in conditions of a crisis, we all know that even in the most developed markets, with market infrastructure and market economy, the role of the state during a crisis increases. It always happens. We observed it in 2008–2009. There were actually direct appeals for this from the parliaments. And not only appeals – the governments reacted to them.
Incidentally, we did not go for this during the 2008–2009 crisis. I believe you know this, but I will say it again. CEOs and owners of our major businesses would come to ask me to take their businesses for a ruble. Why? The responsibility was great. We did not do it; we offered them help and support, including buying out their debts to foreign creditors. We got everything back with a profit and retained private businesses and a market economy. We do not intend to nationalise anything now either and do not intend to create state capitalism. Moreover, we are even ready to make certain steps towards further privatisation of our major companies. This always raises the issue of not selling cheap. It is not even all about the money received, but about creating a certain economic structure
The most important thing we are trying to do now is to de-bureaucratise the economy and expand the free economic space, reduce all sorts of administrative pressure on the part of the state: legal, judicial pressure, any kind – to protect the entrepreneurs’ rights. As you may know, we have set up a number of structures that are working efficiently, such as the Agency for Strategic Initiatives, and we work directly with business communities and work out all these decisions together. We may not be successful in everything, but in certain things we are, putting it mildly, successful and we are making certain progress.
As for Mr Guriyev, I do not know why he fled; nobody made any claims against him. I think he did not run anywhere; this is just because his wife works abroad, so he found a job abroad and left – they pay him better there, that is all. Besides, these things always look better when they come with some political stand; I think that is the reason. If he decides to return and work here, he is only welcome. He is a smart man and a very good expert – this is true, this is why he probably found a good job, it is also obvious.
(On compliance with the Minsk agreements) There are things that cannot be interpreted from the left or from the right. There are things that have a single definition. Suppose, one of the items of this agreement says: 30 days after the execution of this document a law on special status should take effect. The law is there, 30 days have long passed. The law is there, but it has not been enacted. All it takes is to sign the law on amnesty, it is there, it only needs to be signed by the president. There is no signature. The same goes for many other issues.
The key issue is a political settlement. What does that mean? The main component of the political settlement is amending the Constitution. This is a search for compromise, but what does it say? Upon agreement with Donbass. There is no agreement. The most pressing matter now is elections. What do the Minsk agreements say? Under Ukrainian law, but with agreement with Donbass. Donbass sent their proposals three times, there is no dialogue. The Rada passed the law, but the law says not to hold elections on the territories of the Lugansk and Donetsk people’s republics. So what should they do? Now they say they will hold the elections on their own.
A solution to this crisis, unfortunately, is still far away, but there are things that let us hope that the crisis may be overcome and, most importantly, there is no shooting today. We will hope that the dialogue between these unrecognised republics and the Kiev authorities will be positive and the main condition for any compromise will be met, the main condition being direct dialogue. We will insist on this and count on the goodwill of both sides.
I would like to thank you all for the work you have done over the year. As I have said, Mr Fedotov and I have discussed all the areas you operate in. And you are doing it not because we meet here in the Kremlin every once in a while, but because this is what your conscience, your heart tells you to do. I would like to express my gratitude and wish you success.
Thank you very much.