Excerpts from transcript of meeting with public in Crimea and Sevastopol
President of Russia Vladimir Putin: Good afternoon.
I am happy to welcome everybody and, of course, congratulations on the seventh anniversary of the reunification of Crimea and Sevastopol with Russia. This is a celebration for all of us and for the entire country, our enormous Russia. Meetings with the public in Crimea and Sevastopol to mark this, without exaggeration, historic date have become a tradition. I believe it is important and necessary to maintain a direct contact with you.
You know the situation on the ground and deal with the unresolved problems and tasks first-hand. You know more about them than any industry experts. You can give an objective and unbiased assessment of those positive, I hope, changes that are coming into your life, the results of the authorities’ efforts and our joint tremendous work on developing Crimea and Sevastopol.
Together with you, with the entire country, we have achieved a great deal. We are investing substantial funds into the local economy, the social sector, the transport infrastructure, particularly focusing on preserving the historical and cultural legacy of the ancient, heroic and, without exaggeration, sacred Crimean soil. In other words, this work is continuous, systematic, and covering all key areas.
Of course, we still need to do so much more. You know very well how much more we need to build, restore and fix up; how many problems have built up over the previous decades, many of which were never actually addressed all those years.
These problems include water supply and generally decrepit and dilapidated infrastructure. For decades, there was no investment; on the contrary, resources were drained.
We need to quickly make up for the lost time, move forward and create conditions for a decent and comfortable life, good living standards and leisure. It is necessary to expand opportunities in healthcare and education, to support Crimean and Sevastopol companies and attract investors so that the economy does not get stalled between tourist seasons; so that new jobs are created and, obviously, wages grow and professionals and young people are in demand in different areas. Crimea and Sevastopol must become self-sufficient, successful, safe and modern regions with the highest living standards.
Now let us talk about all your concerns and what you find important. Right after this meeting and based on its outcome and your proposals, a special follow-up meeting will be held. We will discuss the most pressing issues for the Republic of Crimea and the city of federal significance Sevastopol with senior Government officials and heads of regions.
I would like to finish my brief opening remarks now. Let us begin our direct, open and honest discussion.
I would like to hear your questions, comments and suggestions. Please.
Vladimir Putin: (commenting on remarks by Anastasia Gorchakova, participant in the project “Heritage Volunteers. Chersonesus-2020.” To begin with, I would like to thank you and all your volunteer colleagues for your efforts.
As for support for the volunteer movement, I have expressed my opinion on this many times. Volunteers are engaged in many diverse areas, many different industries, and social activities. They are always at the forefront of a problem, always where the people need them most.
During the pandemic and through the difficult trials of the past year, which are far from over, we saw a great need for the volunteer movement. This was clear once again in the most difficult areas. We also received volunteer help before this, during the preparations and holding of the FIFA World Cup, and not only in sports but also in cultural and political areas. We have always looked to their help and they have always come through.
This is typical of the social sphere because volunteers are always open-hearted as distinct from officials who sometimes get tired of the routine. This is extremely important for our country, for shaping our national character. Of course, we will continue supporting the volunteer movement across the board, including the area you mentioned.
As I have said many times and will repeat today, the day of Crimea and Sevastopol’s reunification with Russia, Crimea in general and Sevastopol, Chersonesus in particular, are of a specific significance, even sacred. It was here that Prince Vladimir was baptized, and his warriors were baptized. After this, Russia began to adopt Christianity. To a certain extent, this is the cradle of our spiritual identity. Later, the Russian nation began to take shape from the numerous Slavic tribes that lived on this territory. Subsequently, it became one of the centres of creating a centralised Russian state.
So, Chersonesus is of special importance for us and we will certainly develop it further. I have told people who are in charge of it that what has been done is by no means enough. I know that excavations are ongoing and work continues, but this is not enough. You said that what has been done is good. Yes, it is good, but we must do more. We will definitely develop Chersonesus further as a magnet not only for our people but also for those who would like to come to Sevastopol from abroad. There are plans to build a museum complex and cultural and educational facilities.
Vladimir Putin: (commenting on remarks by Alexander Yakushechkin, Archpriest of St Peter and Paul Cathedral of Simferopol) Regarding social service by the clergy, I am aware that Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia attaches great importance to that. All our meetings with the Patriarch one way or another are related to the social services of the church and the clergy in a sphere that is extremely important to people. We will definitely back up all initiatives to support people who find themselves in a difficult situation, those who are at medical facilities.
I should note that during the pandemic, representatives of all faiths showed their best qualities. They were not protected in any way; they do not have any social guarantees. Yet they demonstrated heroism, they approached the people who needed their spiritual and personal support, and carried out their duty to both God and humankind. This is why I greatly hope that this will go on. For our part, we will be encouraging this.
Concerning financial support for medical facilities, their licencing and the like, there are indeed issues here that need to be carefully addressed, and problems to be resolved.
Meanwhile, in the past seven years since Crimea and Sevastopol were reunited with Russia, the number of medical establishments in Crimea has doubled whereas in Sevastopol it has increased 4.6 times. Procurement of new equipment for the medical facilities is ongoing.
Obviously, much more remains to be done. But as you know, a multi-purpose clinical centre was opened in Crimea with 700 beds and excellent medical staff. It is to be become a centre sending out rays, like the sun, to the entire territory of Crimea and Sevastopol so that medicine of the new 21st century will emerge there, too. We will undoubtedly do that within the federal targeted programme on the development of Crimea and Sevastopol. Quite a number of measures are provided for: the construction of new facilities, installation of medical equipment, and it is also crucial to arrange the training of personnel. All of that is envisioned in our programmes, and all of that will be pursued.
There is the issue of licensing. The licensing issue is a delicate one, due to the fact that many state and private medical institutions in Crimea and Sevastopol are not yet ready to provide services to the population, residents of Crimea and Sevastopol at the level of Russian federal standards. They are not ready when it comes to equipment, and the personnel are not ready. We understand this, therefore strict licensing has been postponed for two years, but after this period, of course, I ask the leadership of Crimea and Sevastopol, as well as the relevant federal authorities, to do everything so that by that time the preparations are complete and people can receive medical services at the necessary federal level.
You see, when in 2014, the heads of some federal departments began to come, following my instruction, to Crimea, to Sevastopol, to visit health centres, to visit medical facilities, they encountered many unexpected things, although we have a lot of problems with healthcare in Russia. They went to a health centre and asked the director, “How will people stay here? The floors are collapsing; the linoleum is practically directly on the ground.” Do you know what the answer was? “You see, it is mostly miners who come here; they, excuse my bad manners, have a quick one in the morning, and they do not care at all, they do not pay attention. We are used to it.” But this cannot be, it should not be like this either in Russia, or in Crimea, or in Sevastopol. Of course, this requires both finances and time. But it is not even about the money; we have allocated the necessary funds for each year, and the federal programme for developing Crimea has been extended until 2025, as you know. Therefore, it is not about financing; the point is to organise the work properly, with the proper quality and on time, and to be able to solve the current problems by relying on local staff. All this is envisaged, so we will move in this direction and we will move confidently, gradually, but, I hope, with a good, high-quality result that people will notice.
Deputy Mufti of Crimea Aider Ismailov: On a separate note, I would also like to thank you for the Executive Order of April 21, 2014 on rehabilitation measures, including for the Crimean Tatars. Our older generations did not live to see this. Justice was meted out only after 2014.
We are now at the construction site of a cathedral mosque, which consists of a mosque and two administrative buildings. The pandemic has slowed the pace of construction somewhat, but it is nonetheless nearing completion now that the interior and exterior finishing works are underway.
In this regard, I would like to ask you to have the sponsors and contractors complete their scheduled activities as soon as possible, so that you and we can open the doors of this beautiful mosque for divine services.
Vladimir Putin: Mr Ismailov, you are correct, much has changed. I hope that much has changed in the life of the Crimean Tatars and their understanding of their place in Crimea, because something has happened that the Crimean Tatars have been dreaming about for many years now and which they never managed to accomplish.
First, with regard to purely material issues, it is, in fact, about legalising property. I hope everything will be implemented in accordance with applicable law and federal and regional regulations. The fact that property is being legalised is critically important for the people to feel confident.
Second, we did something that probably no one has ever dreamed of: the Crimean Tatar language was given the status of a state language in Crimea. I believe this is also extremely important for everyone who considers the Crimean Tatar language their mother tongue.
Third, you just mentioned the construction of a cathedral mosque. Indeed, many talked, thought and dreamed about it in Soviet times and when Crimea was part of Ukraine. Nothing of the kind happened though, or was not even planned. However, we are now in the final stage of this project.
Indeed, we had to shift the deadlines slightly because of the pandemic. This was due exclusively to production-related and objective reasons, as the work was suspended not because of the builders, but because of the suppliers of materials and so on, but this can be fixed. We will complete this on schedule, we will catch up, no problem with that. I think it will be one of the best, or shall I say, even unique religious institutions in Crimea. These are all signs of respect for the Crimean Tatars living in Crimea. This will continue into the future, no doubt about it.
Importantly, everyone in Russia in general and in Crimea in particular – and Crimea is a multinational territory – should feel at home on their land and be there for each other, feel the helpful shoulder of their neighbours regardless of religion. They should feel that Russia is their common homeland, which treats all citizens of our country like its children.
If we arrange our work this way, and this is how it is being arranged, including with your help, then we will live like a friendly and effective family that will live happily and look ahead to the future with confidence. Not only its immediate future, but also the future of their children and grandchildren.
Thank you for the invitation. I will try to be there, my work schedule permitting. However, the opening of the mosque is a major event which I, of course, will try to attend. I regularly visit Orthodox, Muslim, Jewish and other religious buildings. So, I will be pleased and interested in seeing what we have accomplished here.
Director of Civic Culture Development Centre in Sevastopol Valery Aleksandrin: As per your instructions, a cultural and educational museum complex will be built on Cape Khrustalny by 2023. Despite the fact that the construction is still ongoing, we are already seeing certain results. Sergei Polunin’s Choreography Academy is enrolling students for a young choreographers’ course. The Russian State Art Gallery and the Russian Popular Front are now helping us with the Sevastopol Cultural Code project. It is a contest for painters.
We are launching educational projects. Our Theatre Street art space is teaching young people to organise their own creative events. It is a creative workshop of sorts. We are accepting applications right now. Our colleagues, the team that developed the Skillbox platform, are offering training for creative jobs via its Mobile University app. It is a series of courses in illustration, animation and video production. Perhaps it is possible, with support from the Ministry of Culture or the Ministry of Science and Higher Education, to scale these initiatives to other regions as projects with a good track record.
Vladimir Putin: We will definitely consider scaling these positive practices.
As concerns the cultural centre you mentioned, as you are aware, similar centres are under construction in four of the Russian regions: Kaliningrad, Sevastopol, Vladivostok and Kemerovo. I really hope that these centres will not only turn out to be beautiful pieces of architecture but also cultural magnets for aspiring members of the creative community, with new opportunities for our citizens, including children.
Choreography schools are opening in other places as well. It is very important that people, regardless of where they live, feel that they are part of a huge country and its culture and that they could give their children an opportunity to learn how to dance, sing or play music. Residents of this region should be able to visit exhibitions of our major museums, The Hermitage, the Tretyakov Gallery, the Russian Museum and others, without having to go to Moscow or St Petersburg. More often than not, these museums keep 80 percent of their art in depositories. Why keep it stored away? We should create new venues where people can see and enjoy art.
The same goes for music, opera and ballet. Travelling every week to St Petersburg or Moscow or other major cities (imagine going to Novosibirsk) is not something people can easily afford. I believe these centres must become new “nurseries” for Russian multi-ethnic culture. I am certain it will be true for Sevastopol. The opening of all these centres at the end of 2023 will be an extraordinary event. I would like to thank everybody involved in this work and hope you will continue to successfully collaborate for the benefit of Russian culture.
And we should not stop only at this. More centres will open in other regions as part of the Culture national project. We plan to build 39 multi-purpose cultural centres. In about 5,000 existing cultural centres and institutions, we plan to upgrade the equipment and carry out renovation work. Therefore, our efforts to support Russian culture are not only limited to creating major specialised cultural centres in the four mentioned regions. This work is much bigger as part of the Culture national project. And I really do hope that it will yield the results we expect.
Leading Research Associate at Sevastopol State University Sergei Piontkovsky: I carry out research in marine biology, biophysics and oceanography. I started in Sevastopol, then worked at universities in Great Britain, the United States, the UAE, and Oman for 25 years.
Sevastopol State University has launched an excellent programme to invite leading research workers, and I obtained a position as a leading research associate. I work at this university.
It is noteworthy that the university has managed to purchase a wide range of modern equipment and open several labs. All of this allows us to carry out research at the global level. The city also has three large institutes of the Russian Academy of Sciences and several enterprises specialising in marine research. Our university is actively developing the marine area of research – this is a potential base to concentrate our efforts – so we have established a global-level scientific and educational centre on Marine Sciences, Technologies and Regional Ecosystems. We have applied for state financing.
What is my proposal? I would like to ask you to pay attention to our centre’s scientific potential that is powerfully focused on studying southern seas and the southern sector of the World Ocean in general.
Vladimir Putin: Mr Piontkovsky, when did you get back?
Sergei Piontkovsky: In the autumn of 2020.
Vladimir Putin: And where from? Where was your last place of residence?
Sergei Piontkovsky: From Oman. I worked in Oman for 13 years. I was a professor there. And before that, at New York University for 13 years.
Vladimir Putin: You have already been working here for several months. I understand what you like about it. And what is lacking?
Sergei Piontkovsky: We lack experienced young people. We need to send them on internships so that they can come back knowing how to use the modern equipment we have purchased.
Vladimir Putin: I see.
Under the megagrants programme, 60 percent of our researchers are young scientists, I think under 39 years old. You are absolutely right: this coincides with my observations and with the observations of my colleagues from the Government; indeed, we need to do a lot so that young researchers are ready to work on the new scientific instrument base. But this can be done both abroad and in Russia, in leading centres. We even have special programmes to support young researchers and young scientists.
You know, 15 new scientific centres are being created all across Russia. They have to combine business capabilities, capabilities and resources of the local research base, of federal and local administrations in order to focus researchers’ attention, among other things, on solving the problems that several of our regions are facing. Of course, marine research in the southern seas is natural in places like Crimea or Sevastopol. I know there are two applications to take part in this programme to open new scientific centres. I hope the contest committee will study everything carefully. There is an application from Sevastopol and an application from Crimea. We will study them most carefully. I would like to wish you success in the contest. We will think about what else can be done to support you.
International Music Festival volunteer coordinator and representative of Crimea Federal University Polina Bolbochan: Mr President, I have a somewhat personal question for you. Yesterday, President Biden got quite tough in his interview, including with regard to you. What would you say to him?
Vladimir Putin: With regard to my US colleague’s remark, we have, indeed, as he said, met in person. What would I tell him? I would say “stay healthy.” I wish him good health. I am saying this without irony or tongue in cheek. This is my first point.
Secondly, taking a broader approach to this matter, I would like to say that difficult, dramatic, and bloody events abound in the history of every nation and every state. But when we evaluate other people, or even other states and nations, we are always facing a mirror, we always see ourselves in the reflection, because we project our inner selves onto the other person.
You know, I remember when we were children and played in the yard, we had arguments occasionally and we used to say: whatever you call me is what you are called yourself. This is no coincidence or just a kids’ saying or joke. It has a very deep psychological undercurrent. We always see ourselves in another person and think that he or she is just like us, and evaluate the other person’s actions based on our own outlook on life.
With regard to the US establishment, the ruling class – not the American people who are mostly honest, decent and sincere people who want to live in peace and friendship with us, something we are aware of and appreciate, and we will rely on them in the future – their mindset was formed in rather challenging circumstances which we are all aware of. After all, the colonisation of the American continent by the Europeans went hand-in-hand with the extermination of the local people, the genocide, as they say today, outright genocide of the Indian tribes followed by a very tough, long and difficult period of slavery, a very cruel period. All of that has been part of life in America throughout the history of the United States to this day. Otherwise, where would the Black Lives Matter movement come from? To this day, African Americans face injustice and even extermination.
The ruling class of the United States tends to address domestic and foreign policy issues based on these assumptions. After all, the United States is the only country to have used nuclear weapons, mind you, against a non-nuclear state – Japan, in Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the end of WW II. There was absolutely no military need for the bombing. It was nothing but the extermination of civilians. I am bringing this up, because I know that the United States and its leaders are determined to maintain certain relations with us, but on matters that are of interest to the United States and on its terms. Even though they believe we are just like them, we are different. We have a different genetic, cultural and moral code. But we know how to uphold our interests. We will work with the United States, but in the areas that we are interested in and on terms that we believe are beneficial to us. They will have to reckon with it despite their attempts to stop our development, despite the sanctions and insults. They will have to reckon with this.
We, with our national interests in mind, will promote our relations with all countries, including the United States. This is generally all I want to say about this.
Head Nurse of Pirogov City Hospital No. 1 in Sevastopol Anna Markova: I work as a nurse in the Pirogov City Hospital No. 1. Right now we are in our hospital’s second branch, named after Dasha Sevastopolskaya.
Last year the entire world had to face the pandemic. We have fought and continue to fight for the health and lives of our compatriots.
You have established the Order of Pirogov and St Luke of Crimea medal, and these decorations have been presented to over 70 Sevastopol medical workers. Sevastopol has also established a new decoration: the Dasha Sevastopolskaya medal. Dasha Sevastopolskaya was a hero of the 1854‒1855 defence of Sevastopol. Darya Mikhailova was among the first military nurses. She did not have a medical education, but was among the first to provide aid to the wounded and injured defenders of Sevastopol. She used her own money to establish the first field dressing station. Although English woman Florence Nightingale, who was in the same war but on the other side of the front line, is usually considered the first nurse, our Dasha Sevastopolskaya treated the wounded as early as in September 1854, and the English woman only arrived in Crimea the following April. We suggest restoring justice and making a film about Dasha Sevastopolskaya in order to immortalise and popularise the exploits of the heroes of the Crimean War.
By the way, the first Russian full-length feature of 1911, Defence of Sevastopol, was about the Crimean War.
Vladimir Putin: It is truly an important heroic page in the history of Sevastopol. The Crimean War of 1853‒1856, as it was called, was only the main stage of the military operations. In fact the united European troops attacked Russia from various points: in the northwest, even in the Far East, and then in Crimea. This was the main theatre of military operations.
The defence of Sevastopol is one of the most important and heroic pages in the history of Russia. This is why it is really important to immortalise the historical memory of our people and the heroes of the Crimean War in order to form our internal vision so that we can not only be proud of our ancestors but, in passing it on to new generations, form a national attitude to our moral and ethical values.
Why am I talking about this? Because Dasha Sevastopolskaya glorified her name by helping not only our wounded – she glorified her name by helping all wounded, regardless of what army they belonged to, which fought on our land. She collected both wounded Russian soldiers and wounded enemy soldiers. This is a special page, of course, in military history and in the humanitarian side of military conflicts.
Of course, it is a good idea to make such a film. I will discuss it with my colleagues from the Ministry of Culture. Thank you for the idea.
Director of the Central Museum of Tavrida Andrei Malgin: I am aware that you have been supporting an important project, No Statute of Limitations, for two years now. It is about restoring the memory of the Great Patriotic War and of the Soviet people who became victims of the Nazi occupation, victims of genocide.
This project is highly relevant for us because Crimea suffered a three-year long Nazi occupation, which cost the region almost 100,000 lives.
But it is also relatable because seven years ago now, we, too, faced a reviving Nazi ideology. This largely determined the choice we made seven years ago. This is the main reason why today we are part of Russia.
Such thoughts inspired us when we, assisted by many regions of the Russian Federation, were rebuilding the memorial dedicated to the Nazi camp that used to be located in the Simferopol district, where as many as 15,000 people lost their lives during the occupation, mostly civilians and prisoners of war.
The No Statute of Limitations project gives us a chance to learn more and more new names, and new details of those tragic events, and to perpetuate on the Wall of Memory those people who gave their lives for this. Even if they were not military people, and if their contribution to Victory has not been fully appreciated until now, they have certainly made one, and it was quite significant.
Vladimir Putin: This work is extremely important. Indeed, during World War II, the Great Patriotic War, the Soviet Union, Russia suffered immeasurable, irreparable losses, and the entire world knows this only too well. It is still impossible to count them all, but the most recent figure is 27 million lives. And those were mainly civilians, Soviet citizens, because the combat losses were much lower. And what is it, if not genocide? And it is extremely important that you are working to keep the memory of these tragic events alive, preventing the wound from healing. It is vital for us, for our self-awareness, for the self-awareness of our people, it is important for everyone, for the whole world. To make sure that nothing like this will ever happen again, to make everyone understand where such ideas can lead to – those underlying the ideology of fascism and its practical criminal activities.
When we talk about the early signs of revival of such misanthropic ideology, it is very important for present day. It is very important that humanity never forgets about that kind of tragedy. This is exactly what you are doing. You don't let us forget it. It’s an extremely important mission.
Thank you very much and I wish you every success. Of course, we will continue to support your work.
Head of Phytoresources Laboratory at the Kovalevsky Institute of Biology of the Southern Seas of the Russian Academy of Sciences Natalia Milchakova: I work at the Institute of Biology of the Southern Seas and have been dealing with the environmental problems of the Black Sea and the entire Mediterranean basin for many years now. Of course, as a volunteer I participate in many environmental movements and moderate the Ecology in Sevastopol platform.
This year we have organised the Memorial Trees of Sevastopol movement. We came up with such an initiative to immortalise the trees planted in Sevastopol on memorable dates or associated with the names of our famous townspeople and citizens of Russia. In fact, this is the living history of Russia. Our trees are the historical memory of the country, the city, in fact, and the memory of the entire nation.
It is symbolic that we are now at Malakhov Kurgan. You know, after the Great Patriotic War, there were hardly any trees left in Sevastopol. This tree, Almond of Victory, was wounded, burnt, with its trunk lost, but pleases us when it’s in blossom even today.
We have set a goal: to create a chronicle and an interactive map of memorial trees, and we already have plenty of support.
Malakhov Kurgan is an especially significant place for Sevastopol, because it is a place of glory and military heroism of the two defences of Sevastopol. Here, on Malakhov Kurgan, just next to this almond tree, the planting of memorial trees began back in the 1950s, immediately after the war. It still continues in our city.
I believe this volunteer project to immortalise memorial trees could become the beginning of a nationwide campaign. It could be called the Memorial Trees of Russia.
I would like to use this occasion, this special day – the Day of the reunification with our homeland – to ask you: please support organising such a nationwide campaign, the Memorial Trees of Russia.
Vladimir Putin: You have already said that this movement, a volunteer movement, in fact, supported by the state, has been developing for a long time now. The idea is wonderful.
However, I would like to draw your attention to the fact that we have been holding similar tree planting events since 2010. This is most likely related to the ecology, but I think that one does not interfere with the other, and it is quite possible to combine the two reasons, because they complement one another.
I believe the idea to make the Memorial Trees of Russia a nationwide campaign is very interesting from all points. No matter how we look at it, it is right and deserves all the support possible. We will do this. I will ask the Russian Popular Front to work actively in this area and recommend the regional heads to support your initiative at the regional level.
Colleagues, if you wish to add something or if perhaps we have forgotten something or if I have not answered your questions completely, please speak up.
Is everything okay? Thank you very much.
Once again, congratulations. All the best and goodbye.