Vladimir Putin: Good evening! Where shall we start?
Natalya Solovyova: We are very happy to see you. And naturally, we would like for the head of the expedition to finally tell you about this island.
Vladimir Putin: Please, go ahead.
Yegor Blokhin: My name is Yegor Blokhin. I am heading the Gogland 2013 expedition and am a staff member at the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute for the History of Material Culture.
Vladimir Putin: A bureaucrat. You begin by stating that you are the boss.
Yegor Blokhin: Still, first and foremost, I am a scientist and an archaeologist.
I would like to tell you about the results of our studies. This is only the first year. The expedition has just begun. We have only been working for two weeks. However, in these two weeks alone, our results have been astonishing – I am not exaggerating in using this word. Up until now, the island has been a blank on the map.
Vladimir Putin: I am aware of this. Yegor, can I ask you something? I think this is interesting for me and for anyone who is not familiar with your work. You have come here, to this beautiful island with its wonderful landscapes and sandy beaches – a great place for a holiday. When you came here, did you just take a shovel and begin digging around all over the place? How do you do this? (Laughter.)
“The Academy of Sciences remains as a state institution, as it was before, but part of its property is transferred to a newly-formed agency. But the institutes are not going anywhere, they will remain just as before. This is simply a more direct form of financing.”
Yegor Blokhin: There is a special procedure. We divide the island into quadrants, divide it into a grid on the map, and identify places where, based on our prior experience, there might be archaeological remains.
Vladimir Putin: And why might they be there?
Yegor Blokhin: For example, the cliffs are not suitable to live on. The beaches – it is unlikely that we would find burial sites there. Archaeological experience already shows us that remains of settlements might be there and burial sites here. We begin to systematically follow a grid to cover the entire island. Sometimes, this can be very difficult. The island has many heaps of fallen trees. But overall, we are not afraid, we are going forward and we have already made many interesting finds.
I propose that you look at the photographs. This is a bowl-shaped sacrificial stone (these existed throughout the entire Middle Ages). They were used for small sacrifices to the spirits. There are also burial sites. The island has an enormous number of burial sites. These are mainly stone burial mounds, stone masonry. What you are looking at now, the top photograph, is most likely a burial site from the Bronze Age; it is 2,500 years old.
Vladimir Putin: That’s incredible!
Yegor Blokhin: Yes. They can be found in Finland and in Estonia. This is the first time they have been discovered in our country. So in a sense, this is a unique discovery.
In addition, previously, stone implements from ancient humans were discovered on the island, which means the island was inhabited as far back as 5,000 years ago. This is the earliest information that we have. Naturally, the island also has villages that have existed for a fairly long time. Our current location is a large village; it was already inhabited beginning in the 15th century. We also excavated an 18th century village, as it turned out. You saw the materials.
Here is something else that is important for us: the island is not in isolation, it is not surrounded by a stone wall that separates it from the rest of the world. The island is a part of an archipelago, and the people who inhabited the island did not confine themselves to Gogland alone.
Vladimir Putin: They communicated.
Yegor Blokhin: They communicated, they sailed across the sea; this is a shared culture, a shared world. So naturally, we are not just conducting studies to look only at one fairly large but nevertheless individual island, but rather, an entire archipelago. So we hope, we would like for the island to become a base for the Russian Geographical Society to study Gogland – this is a truly unique place, believe me – and the surrounding islands.
Vladimir Putin: How many other large islands are there?
Yegor Blokhin: First and foremost, we have the Bolshoi Tyuters. I absolutely must show you two more photographs. These are findings from the late 19th to early 20th century. This is a unique item, a coat fastener. It was made in the 6th or 7th century CE and belonged to a wealthy man, a merchant or a warrior, who sailed to the east, to our country here, from Scandinavia; he sailed to the location where Staraya Ladoga and Novgorod would appear 50 to 100 years later. This is the beginning of the Ancient Russian State, the beginning of Russian statehood.
Vladimir Putin: This is a Scandinavian item?
Yegor Blokhin: Yes, it is. But Novgorod residents also sailed in the reverse direction. A small number of items in the surrounding lands come from Novgorod – purely Russian, Orthodox objects, for example, Easter eggs.
But in addition to the antiquity, which concerns us here first and foremost, the island has also played an enormous geopolitical role over the course of its history. Here is a very interesting detail: during the Northern War, when Russia fought against Sweden, the island formally belonged to Sweden. However, Peter the Great ordered a lighthouse to be built on the island to allow for navigation through the Gulf of Finland. And in spite of the war, in spite of the constant battles, Russian builders arrived on the island and built a lighthouse here, which allowed for vessels to navigate safely throughout the northern fairway. And in the years of the Crimean War, this was the base of a Russian squadron. It exchanged fire with the English fleet, and after that, the English, who were heading for St Petersburg, were unable to advance further and came to a halt. We found evidence of this squadron several days ago on one of the island’s hills.
Vladimir Putin: What year was this? 1856?
Yegor Blokhin: 1855.
So we are hoping that the research base will become a permanent feature, that it will do archaeological and historical research, and will also host the work of geologists and botanists. I know that Finnish and Swedish scientists want very much to visit the island.
Natalya Solovyova: We have already received requests from scientists. What does Artur Chilingarov think?
Artur Chilingarov: I have already told you that we support it. Naturally, the Governor must make his decision. Otherwise, we, the Russian Geographical Society, support this; we find common ground and feel it is very useful.
Vladimir Putin: You are living in tents, right?
Artur Chilingarov: Yes. They’ve made all this themselves. They built everything here.
Natalya Solovyova: It’s a typical archaeological expedition.
Vladimir Putin: This is such a beautiful place, it’s just incredible! I was looking at it from the helicopter as we were approaching, and I was in awe. I expected this would be flat terrain, but there are some hills here. I suppose they are ultimately of volcanic origin?
Alexander Trifonov: Yes, that is exactly right, they are of volcanic origin.
Vladimir Putin: That’s amazing! We’ll try to support you in the future. How many people will be working here this summer in total?
Alexander Vlasov: All together, about 100 people will work here this summer.
Vladimir Putin: That’s quite a lot.
Artur Chilingarov: It works out as 15 people per team. Is that right?
Alexander Vlasov: No, no, no, there are more. The next team will have 30 people, and then more geologists and ecologists will arrive. Let’s just say we will try to study the island holistically this year, and if there are any scientific sensations on the island, we will take people on for next year. Thus, as Yegor said, it would be great if the island could serve as a base for studying Bolshoi Tyuters, Virginy and other islands that surround Gogland. Because Gogland truly is a very convenient place. You rightly noted that the nature is very beautiful, there is fresh water available here, there are no problems with mine removal, so the island serves as a very convenient base for the geographical society.
Vladimir Putin: We will need to look into it for next year. How much is the total grant? I don’t recall.
Alexander Vlasov: The sum of the grant? 1.45 million rubles. But the Leningrad Region has also contributed, so we can’t complain.
Vladimir Putin: They should get some milk in here, and some better food. Where is the Governor? I suppose he ran off, probably got scared.
Alexander Vlasov: It is unlikely that Mr Drozdenko will bring milk. We have a lighthouse keeper here, she gives us fresh milk.
Vladimir Putin: The students are saying it would be nice if they could get some milk.
Alexander Drozdenko: We are working to organise that.
Vladimir Putin: Of course.
Natalya Solovyova: Mr Putin, I would like to steer our conversation toward some more concrete matters, if I may.
Vladimir Putin: Please, go ahead.
Natalya Solovyova: As a member of a RAS institute, I am concerned about the current reforms underway in the Academy of Sciences. A new president has been appointed for the Academy of Sciences, a man who is both a highly lauded scientist and a very business-minded, experienced individual. When talking to him, you said, “The Russian Academy of Sciences must exist.” But in what form? How do you regard the humanities institutes in this situation?
Vladimir Putin: In the same way as all the others. After all, they are not going anywhere. The issue is that the initial text of the law – and Yevgeny Primakov drew our attention to this – involved eliminating the Academy, but we have decided against it. Frankly speaking, I did not look into the details, but when Mr Primakov stated that this was part of the law and unacceptable, it was removed.
The law states that the Academy of Sciences remains as a state institution, as it was before, but part of its property is transferred to a newly-formed agency. But the institutes are not going anywhere, they will remain just as before. This is simply a more direct form of financing; that’s all. Indeed, nothing is changing for the people working at institutes. Moreover, we talked about how directors should be appointed, and I suggested one of the options that the elected president agreed with: to follow the examples of other nations. That is how it’s done at the Max Planck Institute in Germany, in France as well. So, when, say, some kind of working group is formed at the Presidential Council for Science and Education, composed of the most prominent Russian scientists, they, together with the corresponding divisions of the Academy of Sciences, consider candidates submitted by the institutes themselves. And after this ”screening“ process, the candidates go back to the institutes again for voting and they undergo the same screening by working research teams. Ultimately, we need to see if the Academy or the agency makes the final decision. In other words, formally, one just finalises everything, and that’s it. These instruments have long been tested in many nations around the world. At the same time, we are going to keep the Academy of Sciences itself. I suppose there are some other details that can and should be discussed, but overall, I think this option is acceptable. We will continue consulting with the Academy and with experts.
Natalya Solovyova: The students have many questions; in the evenings they discuss politics, the economy and daily life. They would like to ask you a question.
Vladimir Putin: Do you have lighting here?
Remark: You’re being mean, Mr Putin. We have all the amenities of civilisation.
Alexander Vlasov: The Internet is only available on mobile phones, but the young people still go online; technology has come a long way. We don’t have cable Internet, but they still read the news.
Alexandra Shchurova: My name is Alexandra, I’m a third-year geography student. Mr Putin, despite the fact that we are living on this wonderful island, we know what is happening on the mainland and how the espionage intrigue is escalating.
Vladimir Putin: Geographers have always had a special role in this type of activity.
Alexandra Shchurova: Can you please tell us what will ultimately happen with Snowden?
Vladimir Putin: How do I know? (Laughter.) This is his life, his fate. He arrived on our territory without an invitation, we did not invite him. And indeed, he wasn’t coming here; he was in transit to other nations. But as soon as he was in the air, it became known, and our American partners essentially blocked him from traveling further. They scared all the other countries and essentially blocked him into our territory themselves. A Christmas gift, you could say. But ultimately, he wants to travel to a place of permanent residency, to reside permanently in another country.
I can tell you, I don’t know how this will sound, but nevertheless, it is true. Initially, we told him, “If you want to stay, go ahead. But you must stop your political activity. We have a relationship with the United States and we do not want your activities to damage our relations with the United States.” He said, “No.” (Laughter.)
You’re laughing, but I’m serious. He said, “No, I want to continue my work, I want to fight for human rights. I believe that the United States is violating certain international legal standards, getting involved in people’s private lives. My goal today is to fight this.” We said, “Just don’t get us involved. We already have things to fight against.” So this is how things currently stand, but as soon as there is some kind of opportunity to move on, I hope he will do so. He is aware of the conditions for granting political asylum. Judging by his recent statements, he seems to be changing his position somewhat, but the situation still remains unclear.
Vera Milova: This is, of course, very interesting and intriguing, but I have a more practical question. Since we are future geographers and teachers, my question is as follows: will young lecturers have access to affordable mortgages under preferential conditions?
Vladimir Putin: We currently have a programme. It has already been approved. I also signed the Government Resolution when I was Prime Minister, sometime in December 2011.
It has the following conditions: the teachers must contribute 10% themselves, and 10% will be contributed by the region. The region contributes funding using subsidies from the federal budget, although the Finance Ministry has held back a little. Incidentally, people are already using the programme. Granted, recently, for reasons that are unclear to me, the Finance Ministry is holding back these subsidies to the regions. We will see how it goes. And in theory, it can be developed further.
Alexandra Makarova: I am Alexandra Makarova, a third-year geography student.
Vladimir Putin: Is everyone here a geographer?
Natalya Solovyova: The next group will consist of historians.
Alexandra Makarova: Me and the other young women here would like to ask whether the maternity capital will be cancelled in 2015.
Vladimir Putin: It’s certain that it will not be cancelled in 2015; it won’t be cancelled at all. But the programme will end in 2016.
Alexandra Makarova: We will be graduating in 2015. Will we have time to take advantage of the programme? (Laughter.)
Vladimir Putin: That does not depend on whether you are studying, working or not. It depends on whether you give birth to a child. But the decision was based on whether the Government can undertake this volume of commitment. After all, these are long-lasting commitments. Today, the maternity capital is equal to 406,000 or 409,000 rubles, and we are constantly adjusting it based on cost of living. The number of people who are covered by this programme is constantly growing. After a child is born the parents continue to receive the money. We need to understand whether the Government can handle this payment volume or not.
“This programme [the maternity capital]turned out to be effective. So naturally, we will certainly continue, but I think that we will need to make certain changes to better target this assistance.”
Moreover, the programme has proven to be very effective. Our birth rate has grown very significantly. Naturally, this is not due only to maternity capital, which is just one element for supporting motherhood, childhood and our nation’s demographics. It is not only due to this factor, but also the overall improvement in the economy and social services. People have begun to plan ahead, further into the future, and to plan their families. But, among other measures, maternity capital has turned out to be very effective; this programme turned out to be effective. So naturally, we will certainly continue, but I think that we will need to make certain changes to better target this assistance.
Let’s say we have some people with large incomes, and this maternity capital represents a serious sum to a family with an average income, whereas it is meaningless for people with large incomes. So we will need to target it better. So, I don’t know yet what the final version will look like, but we will need to think of something after 2016. In 2016, the programme in its current form should stop in accordance with decisions made earlier and with the corresponding law. Thus, you should not put it off and wait to finish your studies.
Roman Zaborovsky: A question on sports. The Summer Universiade is currently underway, and the Russian national team has won an enormous number of medals of all types – gold, silver and bronze. So I have a question. Does this mean Russia is finally experiencing a breakthrough in sports, or are teams from other nations knowingly sending weak athletes because they do not take this event seriously?
Vladimir Putin: We are hosting many athletes – 9,300 from 162 nations. This is a large contingent, and the athletes are very good. They include world champions, Olympic champions, European champions and champions from other continents. So it is a strong group. Look at what happened at the last Universiade, for example, in China. The Chinese were way ahead of everyone else. It’s just that when people hold these competitions at home, they really prepare thoroughly. And thankfully, our sports managers and the athletes themselves have approached these competitions with a great deal of responsibility, and we are seeing the results.
Alexander Trifonov: Mr Putin, I’ll take this opportunity to mention that we have students from our university participating in the Universiade. Victoria Sudarushkina has won a silver medal in the javelin throw and Victor placed fourth in the 400 metres hurdles. These are our students.
Vladimir Putin: That’s fantastic. I congratulate the university and your students.
But ultimately, there is another element I would like to highlight, and indeed, you just mentioned it yourselves. I believe and hope that our efforts to cultivate athletics, including youth and student sports, will ultimately lead to positive results. After all, we keep working on this one area, and at some point, there should be a breakthrough. I am very much counting on this to be this breakthrough.
Question: I also have a question on sports. What will happen to the Sochi 2014 athletic facility that is currently under construction?
Vladimir Putin: It will continue to operate. You know, for both the Universiade in Kazan and the Olympics in Sochi, we focused first and foremost on using both competitive events as an opportunity to develop infrastructure in those regions.
People who have visited Kazan before and who are returning now simply cannot recognise the city. These are two completely different towns. I was there 15 years ago, when the previous governor and I visited some dilapidated housing, came to people’s homes. You should have seen those dugouts, how people were living there. And now, just take a look at the city. Any European city would be envious! I am not exaggerating.
Look at the road quality, the transport facilities and, of course, the athletic infrastructure. These things will be given to the people: the new airport, the internal roads, and the athletic amenities. They will all be used at 100% capacity. I very much expect that the young people, the current and future students, will use all of these facilities.
And the so-called village for athletes to live in – what is it? It’s a student dormitory; we implemented it 1.5 or 2 years back, and it serves as student housing. It is an excellent student dormitory. For whom? For our students. So 100% of the facilities in Kazan will continue to be used.
The same is true in Sochi. We don’t even need to redesign anything. We do have a lot of skating rinks now in the Imereti Valley so, for example, we decided that the Ice Palace will be repurposed into a cycling track. We do not have any cycling tracks, so we will have one now, and it will be in operation.
We are using this as a basis for creating facilities that nobody created after the Olympic Games: in particular, we will also build a specialised year-round children’s athletic camp. We have examples like Orlenok on the Black Sea and Ocean in the Far East.
So now, we will have another camp, focusing on school-aged children who can come there all year round and train in hockey and figure skating. And the mountain cluster will host alpine sports activities, snowboarding and so on. In other words, everything we have built will be used.
Lev Bulygin: Mr Putin, as you have already come to understand, we are all teachers, educators.
“For both the Universiade in Kazan and the Olympics in Sochi, we focused first and foremost on using both competitive events as an opportunity to develop infrastructure in those regions.”
Vladimir Putin: Future educators. Or else I have a feeling someone might start giving me lessons now.
Lev Bulygin: We are very apprehensive about the upcoming education reform, which will affect us as college students, both in BA and MA programmes, and as future teachers – the secondary school reform, which may reduce programmes. It seems possible that we, as geographers, will not be able to implement our skills.
Vladimir Putin: I don’t believe that will happen.
Lev Bulygin: I would like to clarify this issue; what future changes await us?
Vladimir Putin: You know, the thing is, I try not to get involved in such specialised issues with command methods. After all, these are very specific areas that should, first and foremost, be presented and proven by specialists, experts in the field of education.
Indeed, we have a corresponding academy, a broad,very good expert community. So ultimately, I believe that one way or another, before doing anything, the Education and Science Ministry must conduct an expert appraisal of the suggestions that have been made. But there are basic elements without which it is impossible to imagine a normal, modern education.
Regardless of how important mathematics may be – and incidentally, this is sadly another area where we have many problems and need to renew certain approaches, including specialised schools – it is impossible to imagine an educated, modern individual who has not studied subjects like geography and history. It is simply impossible!
So you should not have any apprehension about whether or not your skills will be in demand. Of course they will, one hundred per cent, I don’t doubt it for a second.
And moreover, modern science, it is… well, it is basic at the school level, but it serves as the foundation for everything. Everything is connected. You are here in Gogland, and the colleagues, your leaders, have said the island should welcome botanists and experts from other domains.
And I think the effect will be more optimal only when all these areas in your research become visible, comparative and described correspondingly. So I have no doubt you will be in demand; I would never even consider it. Only an ignoramus thinks he does not need geography because a driver will bring him to his location; the rest of us will find geography useful.
Alexander Trifonov: Our students are apprehensive because very few hours are spent on geography.
Vladimir Putin: That’s not because of me, I wasn’t asked for my opinion. It is no accident that I brought up the ignoramus who doesn’t think he needs to know geography; but I hope that is all in the past.
Alexander Trifonov: In addition, Mr Putin, speaking of schools, there is another position, the ecological component. Because by and large, our population is mostly ignorant when it comes to the environment. You are quite familiar with our region, Leningrad Region, and you are fully aware that we have different layers of rock formations – I am speaking as a geologist – and some of these less auspicious among them are Dictyonema and radioactive shale. In some places, they are quite close to the surface and people buy land in those areas to build individual houses, due to their ignorance.
Vladimir Putin: This has nothing to do with the people. The authorities should not be distributing this land.
Response: They do distribute it.
Vladimir Putin: No, you simply need to inform the administrative authorities, Leningrad Region, and corresponding municipal agencies, and they must take certain decisions based on your information. Of course, all of this will be done. So this, too, will be useful for us, like geography.
Alexander Trifonov: And if we improve environmental education in schools, there will be a place for geographers.
Vladimir Putin: I just met with [Rector of the St Petersburg Mining Institute] Vladimir Litvinenko earlier today. This specialised institute is outstanding! I believe it is one of the best in the world. The St Petersburg Mining Institute. It truly is one of the best in the world, in terms of its technical facilities and its level of expert training. So we do have something to be proud of.
Maxim Grunkovsky: Mr Putin, can I ask another question? I am a sports tourist; I like to get out into nature. Gogland is a beautiful place, but so are the Khibiny Mountains.
Vladimir Putin: Do you ski there?
Maxim Grunkovsky: Yes, I am a skier. The Khibiny National Park is currently being created there. They are now fighting with the mining complex.
Vladimir Putin: Everyone in our country is fighting with someone else. This is actually good.
Maxim Grunkovsky: They want to build a full cycle mining complex there and build a road across the entire Khibiny mountain range. But the environmentalists and tourists have collected signatures and want to turn it into a national park in 2015. Could you help delineate the borders of the national park, and assure that they are not violated?
Vladimir Putin: This is the first time I am hearing about this issue. But a thorough environmental assessment certainly needs to be conducted when implementing any environmental project. And only after it is adopted can there be any talk of developing an industrial operation, particularly in a highly sensitive place like the Khibiny Mountains. I will ask the Government to look into this and see what is happening there.
You said that the decision will already be made in 2015?
Maxim Grunkovsky: The layout and borders for the national park have already been created.
Vladimir Putin: Who did this? Was there some sort of decision on this matter?
Response: The local administrators in Murmansk.
Vladimir Putin: The regional administrators?
Response: Yes, the regional administrators.
Maxim Grunkovsky: In addition, the forest there is currently on fire. And according to the latest news, when we were leaving, nobody was putting out the forest fire.
Vladimir Putin: Right now, as we speak?
Maxim Grunkovsky: Yes.
Response: These students just returned from that area before arriving in Gogland.
Maxim Grunkovsky: There are many plants from the Red Book growing there.
Vladimir Putin: I will speak with the Emergencies Minister right now, immediately.
Maxim Grunkovsky: Thank you very much.
Vladimir Putin: Is your information recent? How long ago was this?
Maxim Grunkovsky: This was two weeks ago, when we left the area.
Vladimir Putin: Two weeks ago? I imagine everything has been put out since then.
“Deep-water research is very important and interesting work, because it awakens interest in Russian history, its glorious and tragic pages, and makes this history more complete; this research fills in the blank pages in our history.”
Maxim Grunkovsky: According to our information, nobody dealt with it.
Vladimir Putin: So you are in contact with people who are there now?
Response: Not right now.
Response: We’re on an island right now.
Response: We have been here for two weeks.
Maxim Grunkovsky: Before I left.
Vladimir Putin: What is your name?
Maxim Grunkovsky: Maxim Grunkovsky.
Vladimir Putin: Maxim, I will get in touch with the Minister right now to discuss this.
Maxim Grunkovsky: Thank you very much.
Vladimir Putin: Thank you for this.
Natalya Solovyova: Mr Putin, could you say a few words about your submersion in the submersible craft? We are all very interested.
Vladimir Putin: It was quite fascinating. You know, this is not my first time doing this, although it was my first time in this type of submersible craft.
Natalya Solovyova: The craft is beautiful.
Vladimir Putin: The craft is beautiful and has excellent visibility. The glass is thick; it is a hemisphere that produces an enormous distortion in the distance and size of objects.
Response: It is like a lens.
Vladimir Putin: Yes, just like a lens. But it somehow makes things smaller. So when we approached the board of the ship, the stern, it had spaces for cannons; they seemed quite small, and suddenly, a scuba diver emerged from one of them. I was very surprised.
I must give credit to the experts working there, I was told they are a father and son team. They descend nearly 50 metres, 47 metres in depth; the temperature is three degrees Celsius. They have been working there for a fairly long time, and they are covered from head to toe with some scary-looking devices.
So I suppose this is my biggest impression – the quality of their work. They are down there entering into the cracks in this vessel. It is impressive. You know, I am quite awestruck. One can see letters really well. The lettering seems small, but in reality, they are probably about a metre and a half across.
We came right up to the ship, but they appear quite small from the craft. So there is a kind of a dimensional shift, but overall, I am profoundly moved, as though I have been transported in a kind of time machine, entering an entirely different era. It was interesting.
When we emerged, I told journalists that this felt to me like very important and interesting work, because it awakens interest in Russian history, its glorious and tragic pages, and makes this history more complete; this research fills in the blank pages in our history. This is a noble undertaking.
The military also reported that here, in the Gulf of Finland and a little closer to the Baltic Sea, they discovered just over 300 items lying at the bottom of the ocean. Naturally, all of this will be studied. I think this is also very important in terms of teaching patriotism and an understanding of what has happened here – who defended the interests of our nation and how, and who died here. We should restore their names, ascertain the location of these underwater vessels or surface ships. It is engaging, interesting, and very important.
Thank you very much.
You are also doing interesting work in an outstanding location. Sometimes, I am even a little jealous.
Response: You should stay!
Vladimir Putin: But we must go. Unfortunately, we must travel elsewhere. You have your work, and I have mine.
I would like to wish you success. Goodbye. I wish you all the best.