President of Russia Vladimir Putin: Good afternoon friends.
We are meeting just before the anniversary of what is a mournful and tragic date, but one that we cannot ignore: on May 18–20, 1944, NKVD [The People's Commissariat for Internal Affairs] troops carried out the inhuman act of deporting an entire people from the Crimea.
As you know, not only the Crimean Tatar people suffered during this time of repression. Of all the peoples who were affected, Russians unquestionably paid the highest price. The repressions began back in the 1920s and 1930s, first against the Cossacks and clergymen, then it was the turn of the so-called ‘kulaks’ [wealthier peasants], and then repression spread to all political opponents of the regime at that time.
In the Crimean Tatars’ case, the Crimean Tatar people perhaps suffered more than others in that they were able to return to their native lands later than the other minorities deported during Stalin’s repressions.
In this respect let me say that, as you know, the Soviet Union passed certain laws at the end of the 1980s, and the Russian Federation passed a law rehabilitating the repressed peoples in 1991, but the Crimean Tatar people was not included in this law because Crimea was part of Ukraine at that moment.
The situation has changed now however, and you know that on April 21, I signed an executive order on rehabilitation of the Crimean Tatars. I hope very much that it will become the foundation for systemic measures – I stress this point, systemic measures for cultural and political rehabilitation, steps to organise normal life and put in place the conditions for the Crimean Tatars to develop steadily in their own homeland. This also concerns an issue that is very sensitive and complicated, but that we must resolve in one way or another. I am referring to proper establishment of property rights, including land ownership rights.
I believe that this work must be carried out together with the local and regional officials. This is the only possible solution. This economic rehabilitation – we could call it this – will be based on the Russian Government-approved federal targeted programme for Crimea’s development, and on the executive order that I just mentioned. I think that the measures taken within this programme to support the Crimean Tatars should be substantial and absolutely concrete.
Unfortunately, little has been done over these 20-odd years to support the Crimean Tatars, who returned to their old homes from Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan. The President of Tatarstan, who visited you several times, said that people were living in very humble conditions without proper roads, kindergartens or medical centres. In short, they have nothing much at all. We therefore have a big task ahead.
Of course, Russia’s budget has its limitations, but the programme currently under preparation will provide funding for all of the measures on genuine rehabilitation in all areas.
There is one point I must bring to your attention. I want to make it clear that the federal and regional authorities, and the local authorities too, I am sure, are ready to work with absolutely everyone who sincerely – and I stress this word – sincerely wants people to start living better lives on their own native soil.
But we cannot under any circumstances allow the Crimean Tatars to be used as pawns in disputes and debates, including above all disputes between states. This goes especially for disputes between Russia and Ukraine. We cannot let the Crimean Tatars be reduced to this role. People have suffered enough over the last decades and it would be completely unacceptable to entangle them now in disputes of whatever sort.
I understand that there are people who, we need to recognise, have done a lot for the Crimean Tatars and have fought for their rights for decades. But we all need to realise that the Crimean Tatars’ interests today are bound to Russia, and you cannot use the Crimean Tatar issue to defend the interests of other countries. This would not be to the Crimean Tatars’ benefit. Let me assure you that we will do everything we can to ensure that you feel genuinely and completely at home in your own land.
But we cannot do this effectively without the Crimean Tatars themselves, without people genuinely seeking to develop these lands, and without the support of the people who live there. This concerns not just the Crimean Tatars but people of all ethnic backgrounds living in Crimea. This concerns the Russians, the Ukrainians, and the other repressed peoples such as Greeks, Bulgarians and Germans. In short, it concerns everyone living in Crimea. This is why I wanted to meet with you today. I wanted to take this occasion to stress Russia’s commitment to resolving all of the problems that have built up over the past decades, and I hope for your understanding and for cooperation between us.