The Council of Legislators is an advisory and consultative body made up of representatives of both houses of the Federal Assembly and heads of regional legislatures.
Excerpts from the meeting of the Council of Legislators
President of Russia Vladimir Putin: Good afternoon, colleagues,
This is an expanded meeting attended by the speakers of both houses of the Federal Assembly, their deputies, committee heads and the leaders of regional legislative assemblies.
“Great many issues and challenges facing the country are most severe at the regional level. Our goal is to ensure that every level of government is self-sufficient and able to tackle the challenges facing it independently.”
I think that our meeting is very timely, and not only because the Address to the Federal Assembly was presented yesterday, where we once again remembered the challenges facing the country and the key issues that require solutions. We should review the progress made so far and what still needs to be done to make our efforts more effective.
We should talk again about the priorities of our joint work. As you know, great many issues and challenges facing the country are most severe at the regional level. In order to make our joint efforts more successful, we must set up very effective communication channels for close cooperation between federal and regional authorities. Our goal is to ensure that every level of government is self-sufficient and able to tackle the challenges facing it independently.
We are all aware of the challenges: these are problems that people face every year and every day. When I say every year, I mean the kind of problems that have been accumulating for decades, such as housing, relocating people from unfit housing, providing basic services, including pre-schools, healthcare, education, and so on.
This is a very large set of problems and tasks that you face continuously. People expect you to resolve many of these problems and they count on you to raise these issues with the federal Government. I propose that we have an open and lively discussion on all of these matters today and try to determine the directions of our cooperation that would help us increase its effectiveness.
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“We took a well-known decision about investing regional leaders with power in a new way. And I think that what we did reflected society’s wishes, and people received the opportunity to directly influence the composition of regional authorities via direct, secret ballot.”
Vladimir Putin (answering Alexei Machnev, Speaker of Parliament of the Republic of North Ossetia-Alania): Mr Machnev raised a very important and sensitive issue. We took a well-known decision about investing regional leaders with power in a new way. And I think that what we did reflected society’s wishes, and people received the opportunity to directly influence the composition of regional authorities via direct, secret ballot.
Along with this Mr Machnev touched on an issue which is certainly very important for our country. Why is it so important? Our country is multiethnic, but the majority of Russian regions are monoethnic in the sense that one ethnicity that is also the titular nationality, is Russian. Representatives of a very wide variety of nationalities inhabit all territories, but nevertheless regions’ titular nationalities are mostly Russian.
Mr Machnev just talked about the Caucasus, but there are other republics – not only in that region – that are not simply multinational. They are special because there live several ethnic groups that rightly consider themselves titular nations and, therefore, rightly claim that their representatives should be allowed to participate directly in governing the region.
Unfortunately, in the not-so-distant past this situation led to conflicts when a minority titular nationality in a national republic said: “We will never be able to elect a president of the republic because we are in the minority, so we will think about leaving the republic.” This is absolutely unacceptable.
We must never allow the redistribution of territories by increasing the number of entities of our Federation. This is for both economic and social reasons. We just talked about this, we started with this. Many of our current federal entities are not self-sufficient – we have to say this honestly – and are not able to solve social problems as people would expect. And the situation would be more difficult and worse with even smaller regions, and eventually it is our citizens that would bear the brunt of the resulting problems. In addition to all of the above, we would thus increase the number of conflicts in our country.
“We must never allow the redistribution of territories by increasing the number of entities of our Federation. This is for both economic and social reasons. Many of our current federal entities are not self-sufficient and are not able to solve social problems as people would expect. In addition, we would thus increase the number of conflicts in our country.”
I have already said and I want to repeat once again that there are about two thousand territories that regions dispute, even regions that are very close judging by the ethnicities that live there. Two thousand! If we begin to further divide territories, we will increase the number of potential conflicts to infinity. This is a very dangerous thing.
Therefore we should remain within existing territorial divisions and find a formula that would be acceptable to such regions. However, we cannot create certain legal rules for some regions, and others for other ones, as we would simply destroy the common legal framework that applies in the Russian Federation. So developing a universally acceptable governing formula for vesting regional leaders with power is a very difficult task.
Maybe Mr Machnev is right… I’m simply not ready to respond in detail to all of your questions, because they require special analysis and discussion. Perhaps, as you suggested, we could give everyone – all Russian regions – the right to take into account their specificities when addressing this very important issue.
But giving this right in no way means that we have to encourage the vast majority of our regions to return to some old formulas. Offering this right means that we must say openly and plainly to all who want to stay within the current rules that they not only have the right to do so, but that they must do so. They should not introduce any confusion in relation to decisions that have already been taken. And in instances when some people feel threatened, and there is a risk of destabilisation or inter-ethnic conflicts, we are to allow for more flexible rules to resolve such issues. But this requires separate and very detailed consideration.
I agree with you. Let’s have this discussion and make it absolutely open, transparent and fair, and then take the appropriate decision.
“As for the death of our children who have been adopted by American families, this is also a tragedy. This is the worst thing that can happen, but what revolts us in particular is the [U.S] authorities’ reaction to these tragedies, a vindictive reaction.”
Vladimir Putin (answering Lyudmila Babushkina, Chairperson of the Legislative Assembly of Sverdlovsk Region): Thank you for raising this issue. I understand that it is a very sensitive one for our people, and I completely agree with you that it is unclear why our partners and your colleagues, American legislators, are doing this. A Foreign Ministry employee (I forgot her name) commented when she spoke that it is a theatre of the absurd. This is exactly right, I could not put it any better. It is unclear why they do this. They talk about a reset [in our ties], and then they aggravate the situation themselves, without any provocation from our side.
A man died, Mr Magnitsky died in prison, and his name is now known to many. This is a tragedy, of course, and we regret it. But does nobody die in their prisons? Maybe there are even more deaths there than in our own. Does nobody die in European prisons? After all, if you look at reports by the same international human rights organisations monitoring the situation in various European prisons, there are a lot of complaints, really very many complaints.
Let look at the States themselves. Listen, they have failed to shut Guantanamo for eight years now. They keep people there in shackles and chains without trial or investigation, like in the Middle Ages. Those who open secret prisons and use legalised torture to conduct investigations, such people are now lecturing us about some of our failings. These failings probably exist and we will have to address them, and we are doing so. Moreover, we still have to complete our investigation in the case. It is not yet clear who is to blame, who is right, and what the situation is. This is a purely political, unfriendly act.
“A criminal has no ethnicity true. What difference does the person’s ethnicity make if he or she has committed a crime? The important thing is the certainty of punishment. That’s the first point. And the second is the fairness of the punishment, regardless of the offender’s ethnic background.”
As for the death of our children who have been adopted by American families, this is also a tragedy. One can only regret this and sympathise with the children, and this also triggers certain emotions. This is the worst thing that can happen, but what revolts us in particular is the [U.S] authorities’ reaction to these tragedies, a vindictive reaction. After all, American judges do not actually address these crimes, they whitewash them and absolve their perpetrators from responsibility. This is what offends us in particular, although of course death itself is a terrible thing, especially the death of a child.
Therefore I believe that State Duma deputies and regional legislators were right to draw attention to this event. I would repeat that it was not our choice, we did not provoke this situation. I quite frankly do not understand: it’s probably part of some domestic political game. But I still do not understand why someone would want to achieve domestic political dividends by sacrificing Russian-American relations.
We certainly have to respond accordingly; the Foreign Ministry has said it will, and I think it’s absolutely correct that the State Duma has taken up this initiative. Now we must make sure to take steps that are adequate but not extreme.
Speaker of The Moscow City Duma Vladimir Platonov: Information about a crime that specifies the offender’s ethnicity generates additional problems in society.
We have drafted and submitted a legislative initiative that prohibits the media from mentioning the ethnicity of any party to criminal proceedings (not only the person who is detained, charged or convicted, but the victim as well).
Yes, these legislative initiatives provide for harsh penalties, up to closing down the media outlet that violates them. But we believe that interethnic relations must be a key priority for a multi-ethnic state.
We ask you to give your consideration and support to this legislative initiative, which we submitted to the State Duma in 2007.
Vladimir Putin: I agree with you: a criminal has no ethnicity, that is absolutely true. What is the difference which ethnic group an offender belongs to? It is pointless and even harmful to mention it, I agree with you completely. Therefore, these legislative initiatives must be adopted.
I do not want to interfere in this process but if the bill reaches me in its final form, I will certainly support it.
“Russia needs two bases for our nuclear submarine fleet, one in the European part and one in the Far East. This creates a very powerful balance in our national security. These two centres are located far apart, which has vital military and strategic importance.”
I think you are absolutely right. What difference does the person’s ethnicity make if he or she has committed a crime? The important thing is the certainty of punishment. That’s the first point. And the second is the fairness of the punishment, regardless of the offender’s ethnic background, you are absolutely right about that.
Vladimir Putin (answering Valery Raenko, Chairman of the Legislative Assembly of the Kamchatka Territory): I can tell you straight away that Russia needs two bases for our nuclear submarine fleet, one in the European part and one in the Far East. This creates a very powerful balance in our national security. These two centres are located far apart, which has vital military and strategic importance, especially for such a type of armed forces as the nuclear submarine fleet.
The nuclear submarine fleet will continue to develop. Next generation nuclear-powered ballistic missile carriers will be put into service, including at the Vilyuchinskaya navy base, as part of the programme for strengthening our defence capability and re-equipping the army and navy. I won’t go into detail now, not because there are secrets – this is not the right occasion. But I can tell you that the Defence Ministry’s re-equipment plans include the Vilyuchinskaya base and they will be implemented. Everything is going according to schedule.
As for the living conditions, once again, these issues will be monitored and will continue to be addressed. I’m not convinced that everything is so rosy over there. There are always problems, and there are many of them. The last time I was there, a few years ago, women came to talk with me and they mentioned problems with the kindergarten. But I think we have built one now.
Overall, we will keep this under constant control and continue to improve this base, just as we will pay attention to the entire Far East. Most recently, we discussed the Trans-Baikal areas and the Far East. I mentioned this in the Address to the Federal Assembly yesterday. The Government will work out the details on all our recent proposals in the first quarter of next year.
Chairperson of the Legislative Duma of the Tomsk Region Oksana Kozlovskaya: I think the working class problem is long overdue. We are aware of the international experience, we know that many countries have adopted relevant laws, and our proposal is to consider the adoption of such a law at the federal level, and I think that the Council of Legislators could become a partner of the State Duma in this initiative.
“The nuclear submarine fleet will continue to develop. Next generation nuclear-powered ballistic missile carriers will be put into service as part of the programme for strengthening our defence capability and re-equipping the army and navy.”
Vladimir Putin: One second. Could you specify which law you’re referring to?
Oksana Kozlovskaya: A law that would protect the workers at the time of a company’s privatisation, when the company is deemed inefficient and people lose their jobs. Because in practice the regions, for example, do not have enough leverage at present, especially when it comes to the privatisation of federal enterprises. That is what is at stake. We know that there are special social foundations, and this issue has been under discussion for several years.
Vladimir Putin: The existing regulations (which, unfortunately, are not always enforced) stipulate, for example, that companies filing for bankruptcy must pay out the workers’ wages in full, and so on. But you are probably right and this is not enough. We should think about improving these regulations.
I am not prepared to say right now what is regulated by the law and what is determined by government decisions, but it is absolutely true that we must give due consideration to the working people in matters of this kind. The shape this must take is another question, but people must have the guarantee that they will not be thrown out into the street without any means of subsistence. And this is not just because it is fraught with social tensions, but simply because it is our duty to the working people, that is obvious. However, this must be done in such a way that these decisions are enforceable.
Just recently, a few days ago, I had a meeting with Mr Carlos Ghosn, CEO of the Renault-Nissan Alliance, in connection with the planned share redistribution at AvtoVAZ, and I specifically put these questions to the shareholders because Togliatti is practically a one company town.
My first question was, “How do you plan to address the job preservation issue?” I was pleased with the answer, which was that they are not planning any dismissals and in fact are going to increase the number of employees as they expand production volume. They will modernise the enterprise and expect to hire more workers, to increase the number of employees in the company.
We can only welcome such a result of privatisation. The authorities on their part must execute tight control over the way business owners and shareholders fulfil their commitments. This is not always the case and the workers must have certain guarantees.
Today Russia has one of the lowest unemployment rates in the developed world: 5.1%. In Europe the unemployment rate is at an all time high – 11%; the figure is somewhat lower in the United States but it is still very high. The unemployment rate is not only a gauge of social security, but it is also an indicator of the economy’s development and its health. Therefore, before we make the decision to close a plant down or take other steps that will result in lower output and a reduction of employees, we must think in advance about the people’s future. This is a good proposal, let’s think about it together.
Colleagues, the holiday season is approaching and I want to sincerely wish you happy holidays, success in your work and happiness to you and your families.