Excerpts from transcript of meeting of the Council for Civil Society and Human Right
President of Russia Vladimir Putin: Good afternoon, colleagues.
It is a pleasure to see all of you.
We are meeting on the eve of Human Rights Day, which the entire world has been celebrating for over 70 years now. As a rule, we time meetings of our council to this remarkable date. However, you know well that you have to focus continuously on the protection of human rights and freedoms and keep them on the council’s agenda. Each of you is making a tangible contribution to what is truly a noble mission without any exaggeration.
I would like to convey my sincere greetings to you on the upcoming Human Rights Day and wish you success in your difficult but very important and much-needed work.
I would like to emphasise that our Council has one more equally important task. I am referring to the development of civil society. As we agreed two years ago, this task also requires special attention and hard work.
I am happy to note that now the Council is actively dealing with pressing problems that are causing concern in our society.
One of them is protecting people from financial fraud. Criminals have deprived tens of millions of people of their housing, literally leaving them out in the street. The Council persistently raised this issue and eventually amendments were introduced to the law on the activities of consumer credit co-operatives, banning the issuance of loans secured only by housing as collateral. This created a barrier in the way of fraudulent schemes of microcredit organisations.
I will now say what has been done as a result of the Council’s decisions or discussions on issues that really worry our people.
The next thing I would like to point out is that the Council has supported the owners of agricultural lands who had no right to maintain forests on their land plots. Facing huge fines, they had to destroy these forests. The Council’s view on that matter was taken into account as well, and the Forest Code has been amended to allow landowners to keep the forests, which has saved hundreds of hectares of forest.
Another solution to which the Council has contributed was to ensure the compliance of foreign IT companies operating in Russia with Russian legislation. It is no secret that there have been numerous cases of fraud, abuse of our citizens’ personal data and the distribution of illegal content, including content dangerous to children, on transnational online platforms. At the same time, people have nowhere to turn to with their complaints or to demand the restoration of their rights.
On July 1, 2021, we adopted a law stipulating that foreign IT companies must “land” in Russia. Despite its informal name, the law clearly stipulates that international companies working in the Russian segment of the internet must register in accordance with Russian law and open their offices here.
I would also like to mention a solution that concerns a small group of people but is extremely important for every one of them. It concerns children after a retinoblastoma operation. These children need to confirm their disability every year until they grow up to receive financial support for the prosthetic eye care – I remember how we discussed that matter and how our colleagues raised it. The issue has been settled following discussions at the Council, and now the disability certificate the children receive after surgery remains valid until they turn 18.
Our public is greatly concerned about and rightfully brings up issues of environmental protection. In fact, this is taking place all over the world, which we can see and are very well aware of. One of them concerns the gradual phasing out of disposable and intractable goods.
This is a global trend. Russia is also getting ready to fulfil this versatile, multi-faceted task. Traditionally paying much attention to environmental protection, your council has developed proposals and submitted them to the Government of the Russian Federation, which is now working on a corresponding draft law.
All these are examples of meaningful, constructive cooperation between civil society and government bodies on resolving pressing issues.
Once again: environmental issues, protection of social rights, and demographic problems are priorities of our national development strategy. It focusses on people and their requirements. Importantly, these areas play an important role in your work as well.
As we know, life is not always serene and rosy, especially in our time, filled with new problems, challenges and even threats. In these conditions, a big role is played by the council’s efforts to get to the bottom of various high-profile cases, and include experts and representatives from civil society organisations in the analysis, those that are well familiar with the subjects being discussed.
In general, as I have said many times, you are often more sensitive to the needs of the people, and feel their mood better than even government officials do. You come up with your own approaches following an attentive and detailed analysis.
The council and its commissions announce their position during heated debates as well. Cases that have recently evoked a wide response in society are bound to be raised today. I know that you have analysed them, and your opinion is very important when adopting decisions on ensuring human rights.
I would like to end my opening remarks at this point. I know there are plenty of potential speakers among us, and those who announced their desire to speak in advance. As at our previous meetings, I will try to give the floor to as many of our colleagues as possible who want to speak on various matters. But by tradition, I would first like to hear Mr Valery Fadeyev.
Please, you have the floor.
(In his report, Chair of the Council for Civil Society and Human Rights Valery Fadeyev focused on the implementation of the presidential instructions issued a year ago, and on certain items on the current agenda. One of the items concerns the coronavirus pandemic and human rights, in particular, the use of QR-codes in public places and municipal transport. In addition, the issue was raised about enforcing the law on organisations that act as foreign agents, abuse of office and torture in the Federal Penitentiary Service system (FSIN), migration policy, protecting user rights and freedoms in the digital space, and a federal law under which foreign IT companies must open offices in Russia. The matter on benefits for holders of three Orders of Courage was brought up as well.)
Vladimir Putin: As far as I know, you outlined issues that were at the centre of the Council’s attention. I looked at the list of speakers. One way or another, most of these issues will be discussed separately. Therefore, there is probably no need to react to each of your issues now.
However, the last one about providing benefits for the holders of three Orders of Courage deserves, of course, not only to be worked though, but to be acted upon as soon as possible. I agree with you, and an instruction to this end will be issued to the Government shortly.
I am not sure we should be discussing QR-codes or foreign agent registration now. I am sure our colleagues will cover this later. Or, do I need to take these topics and… Then, I think the discussion will be over.
With regard to handling personal data, I fully share your concerns. I myself have spoken out on this many times, and I believe that we must give some thought to how we should organise it.
It is absolutely impossible to move forward without AI technology, which relies on big data, including personal data. We are aware of this, but there is a clear threat from the point of view of ensuring individual rights. The Government has received instructions to this end, and work is underway, even though it is not being conducted the way I, or apparently you, would like, because there are too many leaks. It is absolutely necessary to take proper steps to ensure individual interests and rights. The Government is focusing on this, and our colleagues are working on it, so I hope they will come up with corresponding proposals soon.
As for migration policy, this is one of the most important issues for both the economy and the social wellbeing of our people. You said there are no estimates on how much of a foreign workforce we need. This is not exactly true; estimates are being made, especially in construction. Deputy Prime Minister Marat Khusnullin has repeatedly reported to me on the needs of the construction industry, the construction sector of the economy, for foreign workers, but this is a separate issue.
I fully agree with those who have concerns in this context. Of course, we should cooperate with our colleagues, primarily from the CIS countries, on this. We should explain to those who want to work in our country that they need to prepare for this journey and for their jobs here. They should study the language, our laws and their rights; they should know what our public organisations and government bodies expect from them as regards the observance of the laws and rules of the Russian Federation, and the customs of the people in the territories where they will live.
I can say that we discuss this in considerable detail with our colleagues from the commonwealth countries. I had a conversation about this recently with Uzbekistan’s President during his visit to our country. He said Uzbekistan is also interested in preparing people who plan to move here. He noted that Uzbekistan’s government bodies are willing to promote this process. We are working on this with our other partners: Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan. This is why we keep this issue in the focus. This does not mean that everything has been accomplished in this respect. Quite the reverse; this is only the beginning.
As for the tracking of people by various companies, platforms and so on, I fully agree that it is necessary to put things in order there. I will not go into detail now to avoid taking up your time because I must give our other colleagues an opportunity to speak. That said, I fully share your concerns.
Maybe, let us move on and give our colleagues an opportunity to speak. Marina Akhmedova, please.
(Council member Marina Akhmedova spoke about the problems of the homeless and offered some proposals on resolving them.)
Vladimir Putin: Ms Akhmedova, you have raised a very sensitive issue.
I think that, listening to this, anyone born in the Soviet times would recall that we used to call the “ulcers of capitalism” that the socialist system did not have, or almost did not have. There were homeless people then but not so many. And, of course, every municipal or Government official is bound to be ashamed of what is happening in this country.
I think I said at the Valdai Club recently that classic capitalism is gradually disappearing in the international arena because it triggers too many differences and eventually brings itself down.
In our current life, in our reality, we should all feel ashamed when facing the problems you spoke about and the destroyed human destinies you described. We often talk about the bureaucratic callousness of officials but this is about individuals. We have many officials who are conscientious and scrupulous, who are responsible at what they are doing, but of course there are different approaches.
Meanwhile, the state should organise its work properly to be able to render assistance and support to people who have found themselves in such a difficult situation regardless of circumstances, regardless of why it happens. If a person lives on the street without means of subsistence, medical care or housing, this is certainly a special case that requires particular attention from the authorities. I fully agree with you.
Of course, it is necessary to work on everything you have mentioned: registration and registration through the government services website, and so on. But it is perfectly obvious that it is necessary to deal with this problem and deal with it more purposefully with a view to granting practical assistance to a specific person. This also probably concerns hospitals, and not just one or in one area.
Naturally, all these measures require funding. But what, exactly, do we need state funding for? We need it to resolve these urgent problems; these are our people, our citizens. Therefore, we will certainly deal with this, and the Government will receive relevant instructions. It would be great if this problem were resolved as soon as possible, but we will have to plan and monitor the pace of this effort as well. I would also like to ask you not to quit this work.
Of course, it is very important to cooperate with NGOs in this respect, no doubt about this, and with religious organisations as well. I know that all our traditional religions are involved in this work in one way or another. They are helping people, and it is necessary to encourage this as much as possible, to develop cooperation with them and support them in this effort.
Thank you very much. I have made a note for myself. We will work on this.
Eva Merkacheva, go ahead please.
(In her remarks, Council member Eva Merkacheva talked about violations in the Federal Penitentiary Service of Russia, including violence towards inmates and torture, reports of which have recently appeared on the internet. She reported on the initiative to introduce amendments to the Criminal Code by adding a separate chapter on torture. Merkacheva also spoke about the large numbers of people in pretrial detention centres, the use of modern technology and tracking methods instead of detention, the creation of correction centre, and equipping prison hospitals.)
Vladimir Putin: This is certainly a very important problem. Of course, I followed what was going on and read this information. We must get to the bottom of it.
The Central Office of the Investigative Committee is conducting a preliminary inquiry into the issues that have become public and are now being reviewed as part of the criminal cases that have been opened.
But, of course, I agree with you that it is necessary to take system-wide measures that would change the situation. Everything you mentioned definitely needs to be very carefully analysed, after which relevant measures can be adopted.
I would like to inform you that, first, the Federation Council has already started introducing amendments to the legislation that actually define the crime of torture. This work is underway. In any event, the Federation Council has raised this issue and is working on it.
Now about other restrictions on freedom – not only detention, especially pretrial detention. Of course, the Ministry of Justice will receive support, and work on the draft federal law on probation will be expedited. These are obvious things – house arrest and the bracelets you mentioned. Everything should be done to monitor a person suspected of committing a crime. But before a court concludes whether the crime was committed or not, there are certainly no grounds at all for putting a person behind bars, in a cell. I assure you that I fully agree with you.
As for compulsory labour, I also think it is possible to broaden the use of this option in sentence enforcement. I would just like to note that this instruction has already been given to the Government and, moreover, the Government has endorsed the concept for developing the penal and correctional system of the Russian Federation up to 2030. One of its main areas is broader use of compulsory labour. Work is underway on all these issues and will be stepped up after our today’s meeting, while relevant instructions will be adjusted accordingly.
Thank you very much. No doubt, this is a very important issue for all of us. Such things are absolutely unacceptable. What is there to say? You are saying the right things. It is necessary to work on this consistently and get results.
(Irina Borovova raised the issue of observing human rights during the COVID-19 vaccination campaign and introduction of electronic certificates and QR codes according to the bill that the State Duma is considering at the moment. She specifically drew attention to cancer patients. Irina Borovova also thanked the President for the Fighting Cancer programme.)
Vladimir Putin: Ms Borovova, as for the Fighting Cancer programme, it is one of our top priorities in public healthcare exactly because this disease poses a significant threat to a great number of our citizens. It is what we have been working on together, including with representatives of the medical community. This programme is the result of our collaboration with you and your colleagues.
It is important that this programme receive the necessary funding on time and in full. Judging from what I see, it will happen. These funds must be spent efficiently. This is the first point.
Second, concerning vaccination certificates, as you know they only serve as proof of vaccination. We also know that almost all countries have chosen the same path, all countries without exception that have the opportunity to vaccinate their people. Still, we have to proceed very carefully, weigh out every step and understand what is happening. The entire procedure must be perfectly clear and transparent. It must not create any additional problems for people.
There is more to it, though. Some people are opposed to vaccination and object to any restrictions. And those who support vaccination receive jabs and demand, including from officials in their regions, that they be guarded from the unvaccinated. You see, there are certain issues in society that also need to be addressed. At any rate, we must make decisions carefully.
I agree with you that before introducing any restrictions on public transport, we must fully consider the consequences and check if the transport system is ready. We must not restrict people’s rights, on the one hand, while ensuring their security and safety. Therefore, before we issue any final decisions, they must be exhaustively discussed.
This law is, to a great extent, a framework law. Of course, it still needs to be thoroughly reviewed by regional officials as they will be granted significant authority with respect to final decisions. I hope that will be the approach we take. I mean that we will, in cooperation with the professional community, find a solution that can guarantee the rights of all citizens.
Thank you. We will work on this extremely carefully and make sure that no hasty decisions are made.
(In his remarks, Kirill Kabanov focused on violence among teenagers and young adults, noting that negative and aggressive behavioural scenarios are being widely broadcast in the digital space, online communities and teenage groups, and emphasised that this negative and dangerous behaviour infiltrated Russia from the West and its culture. Kabanov suggested a number of measures to prevent this, including raising the professional level of teachers, creating school mechanisms for eliminating conflicts and reinforcing state bodies’ efforts to prevent juvenile delinquency.)
Vladimir Putin: I think everyone understands that you touched on a very important and sensitive matter that worries everyone without exaggeration.
The bullying you mentioned and the promotion of Western culture, although this has nothing to do with culture, in our society, and these behaviour patterns are often promoted by social media.
Western parliamentarians are now actively discussing the impact of these international platforms on the minds of younger people and their personal development, and their negative impact on the psyche of teenagers and children. We, too, should step up and take a closer look at that. Europe is paying much attention to this, and the United States is beginning to raise these issues at public or parliamentary platforms.
So, the issue that Mr Kabanov raised is extremely important. Of course, it requires a comprehensive approach which is what this proposal is all about as far as I can see.
Of course, I agree that the proposals regarding preventive measures should be considered and supported. This includes additional measures, such as introducing educators who are now becoming available at schools, and more should become available, training and retraining of teachers, and so on. We must implement and improve measures to prevent juvenile delinquency in the broadest sense of the word. Of course, we should proceed with caution given the young age of the people we are talking about, but we must do it nonetheless. I fully agree. We will work on this.
(Pavel Gusev spoke about the law on foreign agents in the media, which he described as one of the most controversial laws, listed its shortcomings and proposed creating a separate working group with the participation of corresponding parliamentary committees, journalist unions, and the Council for Civil Society and Human Rights in order to deal with the issues that are haunting media outlets recognised as foreign agents.)
Vladimir Putin: Thank you very much, Mr Gusev.
Here is what I would like to say. Of course, the incidents that you cited are comical, and the overreaction you noted is obvious.
Of course, we should pay attention to what you said, including the way this document was drafted, meaning that it was not discussed with the professional community. We must do more than just note this. This work must be done and we must see how it works and what it leads to.
However, Mr Gusev, you are well aware of how our media are being treated in foreign countries. They are declared foreign agents, summoned to courts, called in for questioning and face imprisonment if they do not show up.
You and I have known each other well for a long time now, and we understand what this is about. We must ensure freedom of speech and, to a certain extent, the inviolability of people who talk about the flaws of our society, the imperfections of our state apparatus and the governance system, and questions that arise during election campaigns. No doubt about it. What we need to do though is protect ourselves from potential external interference in our domestic affairs. We need to protect ourselves from anyone using any kind of tool in Russia to pursue their goals that have nothing to do with our interests. This is what we are talking about.
Of course, this is a delicate job. When it comes to the media, we need to proceed with caution so as not to “de-energise” or “blunt” the tools that we absolutely need to uphold our own interests, to move our country forward, and to develop democratic institutions, as well as to make our society and economy more competitive as well as to be able to move forward. To reiterate, we must prevent the use of any tool that would ultimately get in the way of our development or lead to the destruction of our country and our society. We need to be subtle and proceed with caution.
I agree with what you said. Let’s get back to this issue together with the professional community and develop, as far as practicable, concerted decisions. I do not think I need to go into detail now since you are aware of my position; I tried to express it again just now. We will be moving along this path.
Thank you for bringing this to our attention.
(Kirill Vyshinsky said the Human Rights Council Commission on International Cooperation, which he heads, centres on helping the largest community of our compatriots in Donbass exercise their rights and protecting Russian citizens and our compatriots’ rights in the CIS and non-CIS countries. He also talked about participating in Russian elections and a variety of benefits that Russian citizens, in particular, residents of Donbass who do not have residence permits in Russia, are unable to access. Mr Vyshinsky also mentioned Russophobia citing the Baltic states, Ukraine and the United States as examples. He emphasised that Russophobia is being formalised in many areas of life, including at the state level, as some kind of discrimination against language and social spheres, among other things, which could even lead to genocide, and asked the President to issue instructions to develop and introduce the concept of genocide or appeals for genocide against Soviet (in historical terms) and Russian multi-ethnic people into Russian law.)
Vladimir Putin: Thank you, Mr Vyshinsky.
With regard to improving the voting process for our compatriots abroad, I agree that we need to give it a thought and take the necessary measures, even though it may cost us extra. I think you are right.
Wherever they may live, Russian citizens should be able to enjoy the rights of our citizens in full. The same applies to social rights and benefits. I will definitely instruct the Government to work this through. I hope we will come to concerted decisions.
I must say the same thing about Russophobia as the first step towards genocide. We are well aware of the current developments in Donbass which are very reminiscent of genocide. We need to proceed with caution so as not to devalue these concepts, but they still must reflect the realities of unfolding events. Let’s think about this.
Mr Vyshinsky, as someone who deeply engages in this matter, what do you think about the situation in Donbass?
Kirill Vyshinsky: You see, my evaluations are based on evidence. My colleagues, friends and acquaintances who live in Donbass – of course, they are used to what is happening there, including the shelling attacks – say that the situation has worsened over the past 30–45 days.
To reiterate, they are brave people, and they have been living in these circumstances for more than seven years now, but they remain calm. But, you know, such an escalation always makes you wonder: why is this happening, why now, and what for? To reiterate, the people in Donbass remain confident that they will cope with this, but they are seeing a deterioration of the situation. The number of shelling attacks is up, and the targeting areas are getting closer, for example, to Donetsk. To put it in simple terms, things do not look good.
Vladimir Putin: Good. Thank you.
(Igor Ashmanov described the newly developed concept for protecting civil rights in the digital space, the risks of digital discrimination against citizens, and oversight of access to digital means of production. He also covered social media and mentioned a volunteer civic project that the HRC came up with in cooperation with the Civic Chamber, parent associations, and so on. The issue is about content which is harmful and dangerous, primarily for children and young adults, which is considered unacceptable in Russia, not by law, but because all digital developers have agreed that this content is unacceptable. Plans are in place to make it a civic project based on the Public Centre for Internet Technology and the Regional Public Centre for Internet Technology, and to reach an agreement with the majority of Russian digital platform developers to the effect that they voluntarily agree on which content listed on the common ethical platform is unacceptable.)
Vladimir Putin: Of course, the issue that you raised is important and sensitive, and we discussed this at the beginning of our meeting. Again, I will not say anything new. Believe me, I am very worried about this as well. I totally agree with you.
Let’s consider how to act in concert with the participants in this process. Let’s face it, attempts have already been made, including at the suggestion of the Presidential Executive Office, whereby our main companies have created an alliance which engages in developing certain corporate behaviour guidelines with an eye towards ensuring interests and rights of our citizens. Above all, we are talking about content that can be harmful to young adults, children and teenagers. So, I agree with almost everything that has been said here. I suggest that we keep working on it. Please, draft it properly, and I will issue corresponding instructions for the Government and legislators.
Igor Ashmanov: Mr President, maybe a civic project does not need to start with presidential instructions to the Government, because it is a civic project after all. I believe your approval is enough to get it going.
Vladimir Putin: You see, approval alone is usually not enough, because you also need administrative support. This is what I was taking about, and I am willing to do so.
(Nikolai Svanidze raised the issue of the developments around Memorial. The Prosecutor’s Office called on the court to shut down International Memorial and the Memorial human rights centre and asked the President to take control of the matter. In addition, Mr Svanidze spoke about the detention of Professor Sergei Zuyev, who is accused of an economic crime. Mr Svanidze said this was a harsh pre-trial restriction considering Zuyev’s health.)
Vladimir Putin: Thank you, Mr Svanidze.
Of course, I paid attention to the media publications on Memorial and, naturally, asked my colleagues for additional information on what is going on there.
I know you may not agree with this, but I would still like you to know about this and listen. What documents did I receive regarding the court trial? Incidentally, it is not yet over, and we should monitor these proceedings. I hope they will be unbiased. But what did I pay attention to, and what documents was I given for reference? As for the international organisations Memorial is trying to defend, they are blacklisted in Russia as terrorist and extremist organisations. Of course, this issue requires additional study. I know that some colleagues, including Council members, claim that a number of these organisations do not fall into this category, for instance, Hizb ut-Tahrir and Tablighi Jamaat, among others. But this is a separate topic. In any case, as of today, these organisations are recognised exactly as extremist and terrorist.
The second problem is that unfortunately Memorial has repeatedly committed violations, and, as the document given to me reads, it did so defiantly. Its violations were blatant.
Finally, there is one more aspect linked with the activities of Memorial, which indisputably is one of the most reputable organisations, and this is how I have always treated it. You mentioned that Holocaust Day has disappeared from the list of observed dates for some reason. Frankly, I fully agree with you. Yes, of course, millions upon millions of members of other ethnic groups in addition to the Jewish population of Russia and the Soviet Union experienced violence at the hands of the Nazis. But these are absolutely obvious things, the atrocities against the Jewish population, and, of course, we should not forget about this as part of the general picture of crimes committed by the Nazis in the world, including our country. This is perfectly obvious.
But what would I like to draw your attention to in this context? You also said that Memorial is the main guardian of the memory of the victims of political repression in the Soviet Union. Indeed, this is how I always saw it. But, since we have already raised this subject, I would like to mention studies, some of which were conducted by Israeli specialists. They found the names of such people as Pyotr Petrovskis, Lisovsky and Kovalevsky in the list of those whom Memorial numbers with the victims of political repressions, Soviet political repressions. The first one, Pyotr Petrovskis, served the Germans in the police. He detained and escorted Jewish prisoners to the place of their execution and later on boasted to his neighbours. There is specific evidence of this, and here are his exact words: “Today, this revolver…” I will not quote the words of this criminal, but he went on to say how many Jews he had killed – a hundred people. The second one, Ivan Lisovsky, began his career in 1941 as a gang leader of a group of undertakers that shot Jews. Later he served in the Latvian police and was a direct participant in the murder of 11,000 Jews.
One more man was also found to be involved in these atrocities as regards Jews in Ludza. He killed 800 people.
Therefore, Memorial itself should make its current activities fully meet the noble goals that it declared to be the main area of its work and should prevent anything similar to what I have just mentioned.
I can name the author of this study. He is Aron Shneer. He is one of those who studied this part of the activities as a professional. I think we can trust this source.
Overall, I believe you are right in drawing attention to what is happening in this area, including the activities of Memorial itself in general. I will certainly take a close look at this once again.
As for the pre-trial restriction for the man you mentioned, from Shaninka, it is necessary to have a look at this. Here I cannot but agree with you again. I do not see any need to keep a man behind bars for the offenses he is charged with. So I will definitely look at his case once again.
Thank you very much.
(Alexander Sokurov became quite emotional as he proceeded to express his point of view on multiple issues, starting with a letter from the people living in an old village in the Leningrad Region, which may be destroyed if the authorities go through with their plan to build a transport interchange there. He also brought up Russia’s federal structure, problems in the North Caucasus, a number of regional border conflicts, human rights concerns, support for the Russian North and its culture. Alexander Sokurov ended his remarks by saying: “I apologise for speaking so long and so passionately, too passionately. I am sorry.”
Vladimir Putin: Indeed, an apology is in order. An apology is in order, Mr Sokurov, because those were not remarks, but a manifesto, a heap of problems and fears harboured by some of our citizens. It is always like that. Some of these problems and fears, perhaps, relate to things that lie on the surface and are hypertrophied, others have been picked in a very strange manner and I do not understand what they are about at all.
For example, you said that all our republics have an ethnic aspect to them now. Was it any different before? Was it any different in the Soviet Union? The only difference is that now they cannot leave the single state, whereas back then they could do so without any restrictions.
Towards the end, you said we should let everyone who does not want to live with us go. How do you know who wants to live with us and who does not?
Alexander Sokurov: Let us check it out.
Vladimir Putin: We did already during the voting on the Constitution, among other things. Take a look at how people vote. We can debate this issue if you like and as long as you like. But I assure you that the overwhelming majority of the people realise what kind of trouble they will face if they act differently. By the way, the Chechen people know this better than anyone else in the Caucasus.
You mentioned diversity and cited Daghestan as an example. A very good example, by the way. Daghestan is a multi-ethnic republic. What are you suggesting? To divide Daghestan? Or, take Karachayevo-Circassia. Should we divide Karachais and Circassians? There are many issues there, I am very well aware of them. We have 2,000 territorial claims in our country. Mr Sokurov, do you want to see a repeat of the Yugoslavia scenario on our territory?
Alexander Sokurov: No, my suggestion is to think. Our Constitution is 100 years old, and our nation-building is 100 years old as well.
Vladimir Putin: Mr Sokurov, this is not a discussion, but an exchange of views. Otherwise, it will become like a talk show with us talking over each other non-stop.
I have known you for a very long time now, and I have a lot of respect for you, because you always speak your mind. Frankly, though, you are not always accurate in what you say. Certain things should be properly considered and reviewed first, such as relations among the Nakh people. Please take these matters seriously.
To reiterate, there are 2,000 territorial claims in Russia. “Do not trouble trouble,” as they say. These matters must be taken very seriously. And talking about this lightly for everyone in our country to hear is not something that even you should do. I assure you that these are dangerous games, we have been here before. And like I said in our previous discussion, people of our age will not go to war.
Do not worry about our army. It is doing fine, it is developing. An organisation as complex as an army, with almost a million service members, cannot go without issues. But if you look at our army of the mid-1990s and today's army… Just look at what those who have declared us an adversary are saying about our army. You will get an idea of the distance covered by our army, its current status and what we can count on in the near future.
Then, things like who is living off our allowance. You can think whatever you want about Belarus, Belarusians, or the leadership of Belarus, but to say that it lives off our allowance is incorrect, Mr Sokurov. It is unseemly to say so in public. This shows disrespect for the entire nation and the entire country, which is part of the Union State. This is a delicate and lengthy process that requires exceptional competence and patience, and respect for your partner. We will not get anywhere if we act differently. And we can only strive for one thing which is mutual understanding and building these relations on a mutually beneficial basis, which would lead us to better overall competitiveness and to overcoming the issues facing our peoples. So, these matters should be tackled with caution.
The same applies to the fact that we must support the Caucasus which is part of the Russian Federation. There is another approach, where people professing extreme views – we have them, too, unfortunately – say: “Let us disband everything and live the life that we want.” We are already living the life that we want. “We will let those who do not want to live with us go.” Again, what makes you think that the overwhelming majority of the people in the republics do not want to live with us? Probably, there are some people of that kind. The bloodshed of the mid-1990s – early 2000s showed us what this can lead to. Do you want this? We do not.
So, letting people professing such views go is a very dangerous thing. It can end very badly. And we have done a lot to step away from this dangerous line. Do not push us back there. Do not.
With regard to us feeding or not feeding someone, disbanding or not disbanding, are the Russian people, whose interests you just mentioned, interested in the disintegration and collapse of the Russian Federation? Will it then be true Russia, which was originally built as a country of multiple ethnicities and religions? Do you want to turn us into the Grand Duchy of Moscow? Well, this is what NATO wants.
Alexander Sokurov: I would like to suggest that we think about what is happening in the country and how it operates. I suggest that we do some thinking, Mr President.
Vladimir Putin: Mr Sokurov, no one is against thinking. Before saying this, you should have given it more thought. Come see me, I have not seen you in a long while. You know how I feel about our meetings and discussions. I am always delighted to have a conversation with you.
But before you say such things publicly, you should think carefully. Please do not be mad at me, because these are very serious matters.
Alexander Sokurov: It is always better to be straightforward about things.
Vladimir Putin: Well, some things can be put bluntly, but others are better off not talking about. Some matters are highly sensitive. Call me, come over and we will have a discussion. No question about it. It is just that these are very subtle and delicate matters. You can hurt people’s feeling very easily.
Alexander Sokurov: I agree.
Vladimir Putin: This will hinder rather than help our constructive efforts.
With regard to your request concerning the village of Luzhitsa, of course, we will work on it. I will do so by all means, I promise. This is the Kingisepp District, correct?
If there is the slightest chance to build this traffic interchange at another location, we will, of course, have it built elsewhere. I agree.
Thank you very much.
(Genri Reznik raised the issue of foreign agents, noting the imperfections of the relevant law, in particular regarding research organisations as well as his colleagues in the legal profession. According to him, the enforcement of this law must be adjusted. He asked the President to create a corresponding working group that would include representatives of professional communities: the academic community, the media community, politicians and State Duma members. Genri Reznik disagreed with the premise that Russia had “become hostile to the entire world”, and any funding coming from abroad is toxic and it is presumed from the onset that it is used to harm Russia.)
Vladimir Putin: I would like to say the following in this connection. I will start with the thesis that you have clearly formulated when you said, “Russia has become hostile to the entire world.” This is not true. Russia has not become hostile towards any part of the world. A certain part of the world considers Russia to be its adversary. Have we ever in our strategic institutional documents written down that we designate someone as our adversary? No, we have not; it is we who are being declared an adversary. Why? There is a very simple answer. Let us look at the mid-1990s and early 2000s. By the early 2000s I had already purged everyone; however, in the mid-1990s we had career officers of the US Central Intelligence Agency, as it was later found out, as advisors and officials in the Russian Federation Government. The US subsequently brought criminal charges against them for violating the US law and participating in the privatisation while they worked in our country as CIA officers. This is just one example, but there are many more in reality.
Thus, first, everything in this area was under the control of certain countries. US specialists were posted to the facilities of our nuclear weapons complex. They used to come to work there every day, from morning to evening, they had a desk with a US flag on it. They lived and worked there. They did not need such subtle instruments of interference in our political life since they had an overall control anyway.
The situation has certainly changed: the country has become different, it has become more independent, more sovereign, our Armed Forces capabilities are growing, and the attitude towards Russia has begun changing.
Let us recall the attitude towards Russia’s first president Boris Yeltsin. Everything was fine, everyone happily clapped him on the back. But as soon as he raised his voice in defence of Yugoslavia and spoke of the illegitimate actions (and we understand that those were absolutely illegitimate actions which violated international law regarding Yugoslavia when it was being bombed without any authorisation from the Security Council, it was a gross violation of international law, you know and understand it too well whatever anyone present here might say), so as soon as Boris Yeltsin raised his voice in defence of international law and the rights of the people of Yugoslavia to be treated in a civilised way, the attitude towards Russia changed instantly as well as towards Boris Yeltsin personally. We know this and remember it very well.
Thus, as soon as Russia began to declare its interests, to state that it has them, began building up its sovereignty, the economy and military capabilities, a need arose for different instruments to influence our domestic politics, including fairly subtle instruments via different organisations that are funded from abroad. As both you and I know, we did not invent anything new here. I think, such a law has been in effect in the United States since 1938 or 1937, and remains in force now. And when they say that it is old and was passed a long time ago – yes, it was passed some time ago and in this sense it is old, but it is being enforced today, including with respect to Russian organisations.
Can you imagine a Russian NGO somewhere in Europe or in the US with a critical stance towards those countries’ policies? It is impossible even to imagine it. Our registered media outlets are designated as foreign agents there. As I said earlier during today’s discussion, they are detained and questioned, and threatened with a possible prison term.
What we are doing is nothing but a light reminder of what is being done in other countries to protect their sovereignty and their domestic policy. You know that our law does not prohibit the activities of those organisations; it does not. Nevertheless, I have repeatedly said so at our previous meetings and I want to say it again that I agree with you on some points. Of course, it is necessary to clearly delineate research activities and why they are treated as political.
Although, do you know what is happening? Let’s say certain decisions are made regarding those organisations that are funded from abroad and engage in political activities. Their funding channels are cut to a certain extent – and there immediately spring up others, or those organisations that were never involved in such activities but are interested in additional funding, get it and begin to adapt their activities to work off the funds, or they become a kind of a hub to channel that money to other structures.
So, Mr Reznik, we have to look carefully, we must respect ourselves and must not allow anyone to interfere in our affairs. However, I cannot but agree with you that we have to look very carefully into those documents so that they are legally substantiated and do not harm us, so that the concepts are never replaced with something else and do not prevent patriotically-minded people with a critical view of the developments in the country from effectively performing their activities in the interests of our state and people.
Thus, let us analyse all that again, I agree, let us look into it and work on it, maybe within specially established structures. And if there are any extremes or excesses there, they must certainly be corrected, I agree with you. Thank you very much.
(Andrei Babushkin began his remarks by talking about Russia’s small indigenous peoples, in particular, their traditional occupations and preserving language diversity. He also brought up the issue of protecting citizens’ rights when residential housing is built and allocated, establishing correctional centres within the Federal Penitentiary Service and other issues concerning convicted persons.)
Vladimir Putin: Thank you very much. I will not list everything you have brought up that needs our joint efforts. All of that is important, and we have to look at the list of diseases for possible release from imprisonment for two categories. I agree with you, we must look into this, so there is nothing to comment on; we need to carefully examine this.
As to the new testimony on the past criminal cases you mentioned – a person has served 15 years in prison and then all of a sudden decided to testify – we have to be very careful here. I will not even comment on this, as I am sure you understand what I mean. Thus, everything has to be checked, of course. The only thing to be done in this respect is drawing the attention of the Prosecutor General’s Office. I promise that I will do that.
Finally, the rights of the indigenous peoples of the North. I absolutely agree this is an issue that requires our constant attention. If you feel we are not doing enough here, I promise to you that such instructions will be prepared. I will get back to this matter and see what has been done and what has not, or has not been done in full, as we had agreed. This is a crucial issue of a principled nature, and everything we agreed on when taking administrative decisions must be enforced.
Thank you very much. I think it is time for us to finish. I want to thank you. I understand that you are tired, but you cannot deny that such a substantive discussion of all the issues raised during our conversation today is much needed. I really hope that we will continue this work next year.
On my part, I will do everything in my power to fulfil the agreements reached during our discussion today to the fullest possible extent. I hope that we will keep working as constructively and intensely in the upcoming year.
I want to thank you for this, for our joint efforts, and wish you all the best in the coming new year.
All the best. Goodbye.