President of Russia Vladimir Putin: Ms Pamfilova, it is a pleasure to meet with you in your current capacity. I know that you will soon be taking up a new post. It is good that you are taking the work you have been engaged in to its logical conclusion. A total of 18 reports on the human rights situation have been presented since the institution [of the human rights commissioner] was established, and you presented two of them. You will be making your report to the Parliament on Friday.
Human Rights Commissioner Ella Pamfilova: My report covers all different aspects of our work. I have plenty to say.
Vladimir Putin: Please, go ahead.
Ella Pamfilova: First of all, thank you very much for the attention you have given these matters over the last two years. I was appointed to this post on a symbolic date – March 18, 2014. The Duma confirmed the appointment in the morning, and then I went to the Kremlin that afternoon for the signing of the agreement on Crimea’s reunification.
Of course, this marked the start of what is practically a whole new life, a new set of problems concerning giving Russian citizenship to Crimea’s residents (my first trip was to Crimea, by the way), and then the refugees from Ukraine. This has largely shaped my work over these last two years. The sanctions pressure and various other factors, internal and external, have given rise to a whole layer of new problems.
This year’s report is very different not only to previous reports, but even to last year’s report. For the first time, it makes an attempt to bring together all of the factors that have an impact on the human rights situation and identify stable trends in what is happening. It takes into account not only the letters sent to the Human Rights Commissioner, because this would not provide an objective picture, but also takes into account the general mood in the regions. The report I am presenting to you reflects all of this. It is the first attempt to draw a map of the human rights situation in Russia, taking into account different regions’ specific circumstances, and there are many aspects worth noting in this regard.
Last year, we began large surveys, and continued them this year. The Public Opinion Foundation helped us in this work. We surveyed more than 60,000 people throughout the country. We also examined approximately 64,000 letters sent to me as Human Rights Commissioner and to my colleagues in the regions. This gives us a large quantity of information that offers a deeper picture, showing which issues are common problems for the whole country, regional differences and the most serious problems.
As far as the general situation goes, which threats and challenges are clear and evident today? The biggest threat to our national security and our fundamental right – the right to life – is terrorism. Aside from terrorism, there is also corruption, a high level of corruption. There is also a big gap between the rich and the poor, the socioeconomic gap, which in Russia is one of the highest.
According to our studies, the poverty level had not increased since 2000, and there was unprecedented growth in terms of material prosperity. Last year, a new three million people were living at the poverty level, but even when we did not have so much people living at the poverty level, the income gap was growing all the time. During the Soviet Union’s last years, in 1990, for example, the income gap was 4.5, but now it is a 16.5-fold gap. We hit a maximum in 2012. The gap has decreased slightly since then, but if we do not buck this trend, we could end up with a 20-fold gap by 2017. This is a very big gap and it has a negative impact in a number of areas.
Vladimir Putin: In this respect, one of social policy’s principal tasks is to organise targeted state assistance for the population groups in greatest need of support.