President of Russia Vladimir Putin: Good afternoon friends,
We are meeting today because it on this day that we remember all who served in Afghanistan. We do so on the day that marked the withdrawal of our troops from that country. On this day, we remember all who served abroad and carried out their duties as soldiers and citizens before their homeland. Following tradition, we also remember on this day those who are no longer with us and pay tribute to their memory.
(Minute of silence)
Friends, here today are representatives of three of the most active and well-known public organisations in our country. Before we turn to today’s work though, I want to say a few words about the events that took place in Afghanistan.
Today, as the years pass and more facts come to light, we gain an ever greater understanding of the reasons and motivations for sending Soviet troops to Afghanistan back then. Many mistakes were committed of course, but there were real threats too, and the Soviet authorities attempted to prevent them from growing by sending our troops to Afghanistan.
I do not want to pass political judgment on those events now, but only want to say that you and your comrades in arms acted out of your military duty and you did so with honour. You fought with honour and you showed a true spirit of friendship and helped each other. Yes, it is true that many of you encountered problems upon your return, material problems, because no one got rich fighting in Afghanistan back then, and moral problems too, because many of you had to listen to what became a well-known phrase that “We didn’t send you there.” I can understand how difficult and painful it must have been to hear these words for people who had risked limb and life there, lost their health and saw their friends get killed.
You went through all of this. You came through these difficult tests with your patriotism as strong as ever, love your country and continue to play an active part in work today, above all with youth organisations, which is very, very important and needed now.
This year, we will celebrate a very important date – the 70th anniversary of Victory in the Great Patriotic War. I think that anyone who has had the honour of defending our country will always remember the Great Patriotic War and its achievements. It is not only these events and achievements that we must remember; we must and always will cherish the memory of those who defended our country’s interests with honour in our recent history, our modern history.
Life is not becoming any simpler unfortunately, and indeed, the world is becoming even less safe. Back then, our forces in Afghanistan found themselves facing what the world today calls political Islam. Extremist organisations were in an embryonic state at that time, but got fed artificially from outside. Those who did this went on to suffer later from their acts. We know the tragic events that took place in the United States and many other countries. We recently witnessed more such tragic events in Europe.
The genie was out of the bottle though and there was no returning to the past. Instead, we must confront this situation, and we will do so consistently. Of course, we need to fight not just Islamist extremism, for there is more than enough extremism of various kinds in the modern world.
We count on people such as you, and we have many people like you today. I ask you to remain in the ranks and continue the much-needed work you are doing now, in public organisations – some of you are members of our parliament – but you are all connected in one way or another to youth organisations and patriotic work. I want to thank you for your efforts.
That is all I wanted to say for now. I propose that we talk about your practical work first, above all your work in the public organisations, and discuss any issues and problems that you might have and try to find solutions.
Please, go ahead.
chairman of the Russian Paratroopers’ Union, Hero of the Soviet Union Valery Vostrotin: Mr President, thank you for inviting us to this discussion on what is such a sacred day for us.
Last week, when you were in Minsk, we were with you as you stood up for peace and stability in our part of the world. You should know that we are your soldiers, your active military reserve. We are confident in our own strength, trust you, and believe in our great Russia.
But we do have some concerns regarding the situation we see today with patriotism and with young people’s knowledge and awareness of our national heroes. Of course, we take an interest in everything that is happening in Russia today, but above all, we are worried about the way that people are starting to forget entire periods and individual figures in our country’s heroic history. This is something that needs a huge amount of work.
It is very important that new people are taking part in this work today, and the regional governors are getting actively involved. When we travel to the regions as part of our project Heroes of the Fatherland Watch, we see this involvement, and this is very positive. The Defence Ministry is doing a tremendous amount of work and has already become something of a head teacher for military history in our country. As for the public organisations, to borrow a phrase of yours, they are working away like galley slaves.
Recently, my friends and I were at the Contemporary History of Russia Museum to attend the opening of an exhibition on the outcome of the Great Patriotic War. You come out of those halls simply filled with patriotism. In other words, there is work being done, but sadly, the final result is still not enough. We still have many unknown heroes and unknown achievements to bring to the public. Let me give two examples.
During the Korean War, fighter pilot Sergei Kramarenko, who had fought at the front, shot down 13 US planes, including several jet fighters. Senator McCain fears him to this day, though he took part in a completely different war, the Vietnam War. Our young people should know about Mr Kramarenko and his life and achievements in the same way that Spaniards know the lives of the toreadors. That is just one example.
Last December, to give another example, we quietly celebrated the 35th anniversary of the storming of the Tajbeg Palace in Afghanistan. This unique special forces operation went down in world history and is considered one of the most successful operations of its kind. Here, we find heroism, the greatest patriotism and top-class professionalism, and this is the sort of thing we should make films about. Sadly though, some people here in Russia, including senior-level figures, think that this heroic story is bloody in nature and think we don’t need such examples today. They say that today’s young people need different, more humane examples. We argue with them, argue for our point of view.
We would like to know what view you take on this matter. Thank you.
Vladimir Putin: Mr Vostrotin, I think you can guess my answer yourself. Our young people most certainly do need humane examples in their education. This is essential because humanism is the foundation for our entire life. But we understand too what kind of world we live in and we know that not everyone has yet reached the standards of Leo Tolstoy, and that his famous theory of non-resistance to evil by force would not bring visible results, especially on the international stage.
Life is very complicated, unfortunately, and we all too often have to face its harsh and even cruel realities and are forced to fight for our interests. In this context, there has and always will be a need for people who not only understand this but are ready to lay their lives and health on the altar of our homeland. This would not be possible without understanding of why it is necessary and of the deep significance behind this kind of selfless act. In this sense, we do need examples of service to the Fatherland, selfless service and heroism. We have many such examples and you have just cited one of them.
I do agree with you though that this is completely insufficient. But I think you would agree that the state authorities have been making greater efforts lately to expand this sort of work.
But let me add here, as you know well yourself, that often the authorities’ undertakings end up falling victim to bureaucratic spirit and, sadly, this work often lacks what it takes to achieve positive results. The thing that’s lacking here is sincerity. Too often, a formalistic and bureaucratic approach is taken and the result does not touch people’s hearts.
That brings me back to what I already said: when this kind of work is done by people such as yourselves, who have personal experience of these difficult trials, people, especially young people, react completely differently, and precisely because you speak from the heart without any platitudes. And this is why I say that our country has great need of organisations such as yours and of the work you are engaged in.
We could discuss these issues in more detail, you might have some other proposals to make, and we would be happy to discuss all of this through the Presidential Executive Office, the Government and the regional leadership. We will certainly continue this work with you.
MEMBER OF THE FEDERATION COUNCIL DEFENCE AND SECURITY COMMITTEE, FIRST DEPUTY CHAIRMAN OF THE BOYEVOYE BRATSTVO VETERANS’ ORGANISATION DMITRY SABLIN: My question is a matter of concern to all of us. We see how history is being distorted and we know that when you end up with two versions of history this inevitably opens the way to war. We only need to look at Ukraine to see how having two different versions of history in one country paves the way to civil war.
I remember when I was a kid and veterans came to our school and told us about the Great Patriotic War. We grew up on those examples. Today, the veterans’ organisations have all discussed the issue and agreed that we are ready to take responsibility for schools and universities, go there and simply tell the truth. We want to tell them what the veterans told us, for a start, and tell them about what happened in Afghanistan, what happened in the Caucasus, and in general about who and why goes to war.
But we often find that education system officials do not always understand our work. Sometimes they are just too busy with other things, and sometimes they do not even let us into the schools and universities. We would like to have a firm order from above so that we would have access to these establishments, officials would have no cause to worry, and we would be able to come and tell the truth.
Vladimir Putin: I did not know that you have had problems even on the organisational side. Let me make a proposal to you. I will definitely raise the matter with the Rectors’ Union. They are very reasonable people and have a lot of experience. Perhaps in the midst of all the many routine matters, people do often forget about things that seem obvious but that seem to distract from the important daily business. Everyone is always short of time, but I do agree that this work has received insufficient attention and that it is needed. Of course, it should be organised in a systematic way, especially in the schools and universities, so that it is not imposed in heavy-handed fashion but is carried out with care and thought, and at the same time creatively and properly. I will certainly discuss the matter with my colleagues. Thank you.
FIRST DEPUTY HEAD OF THE UNITED RUSSIA PARTY FACTION IN THE STATE DUMA, LEADER OF THE RUSSIAN UNION OF AFGHANISTAN VETERANS FRANTS KLINTSEVICH: Mr President,
Today is not an easy date – it is the day when we remember the soldiers who gave their lives while carrying out their military duties abroad. It means a lot to each of us, to every member of the organisations we represent, to have honoured their memory together you at this meeting today. Most of the people here are the heads of our organisations’ regional branches. This means a lot to us, Mr President.
I do not know if I will have the opportunity any time soon, so let me say now that I want to thank you very much for the support that you provide through the Presidential Executive Office to the veterans’ organisations. This is very important to us indeed and means a lot for our work and how we do it.
Mr President, I want to thank you too for the way you defend our country. It made us very happy to hear today that we are a reliable support for you. These are truly important words, and speaking simply as a man, it makes me feel very proud to have heard these words from my country’s President today.
Regarding the various problems and issues we have raised, I want to make a proposal and ask you to support it. We have drafted additions to federal law On Education in the Russian Federation of December 29, 2012. The addition concerns the definition of population groups entitled to study at the state’s expense. We propose that veterans of military operations also be included in this list of entitled groups. For us, the veterans of the Afghan War, whose average age is now 52–53, it would probably be a question of studying for a second qualification or learning a new profession and this support is not so essential, but for the young people who have gone through the operations in the Caucasus, this could be a big help indeed.
Mr President, we will do the work and prepare the additions, but the key is to have your support. This addition would entail some additional spending, but the money involved would not be substantial.
Vladimir Putin: I agree, Mr Klintsevich. As far I recall, since the Soviet period, young people who had gone through these kinds of challenges had the right to study for free at preparatory courses, but as far as tuition waiver in actual universities goes, I agree, let’s get your draft law into motion. Yes, this would require some money, but this would definitely not be large sums and would not have any negative impact on the treasury and budget. It is very important indeed on the other hand to support the young people who are carrying out their duties in conflict zones.
Frants Klintsevich: This would be a big encouragement for them.
Vladimir Putin: Yes, it would encourage them, and I am sure that it is important for the country too because we need to help young people to move forward, to promote social mobility through education and help them to grow professionally and in every area of life. If people have already gone through the kind of experience they have, this already says something about their character and these are certainly people who could find a useful place for themselves in life. Let me see your proposals.