Taking part in the meeting were Federation Council Speaker Valentina Matviyenko, the deputy speakers and heads of relevant committees.
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Excerpts from transcript of meeting with senior members of the Federation Council
President of Russia Vladimir Putin: Ms Matviyenko, colleagues,
This is a regular meeting – although we do not meet very often, this format is not unusual. Today I suggest we consider a wide range of issues. Naturally, we cannot ignore the accession to the Russian Federation of two new constituent entities: Crimea and Sevastopol.
This raises a number of issues before us and before legislators as well. We need to carefully, professionally, consecutively provide for the inclusion of Crimea and Sevastopol into our legal system, without creating any problems for the people living there, moreover by creating conditions for the economic and social development of these two new constituent entities of the Russian Federation.
We need to work more actively with our colleagues in Crimea and Sevastopol, involving them in this effort. The people in Crimea and Sevastopol should feel that they are not only at the centre of our attention, but also at the focus of our joint efforts. They are full-fledged, rightful participants in our work.
Therefore, we must include them in the Council of Legislators; we need to work with municipalities. On the whole, we should do everything to make sure that the people living in Crimea and Sevastopol feel as soon as possible that they are full-fledged citizens of the Russian Federation and begin to take part in our joint work. This is my first point.
Second, we need legislation that would provide for the social and economic development of Crimea and Sevastopol. There are plenty of issues here that we will touch upon in detail today.
However, we should not leave out our daily national concerns that we deal with on a regular basis. Despite the fact that the events I mentioned are exceptional and unique, we should not ignore our ongoing work.
Therefore, I would like to ask you to pay special attention to these issues that may not seem very attractive at first glance, but that are of vital importance for the citizens of the Russian Federation, wherever they live. I am referring here primarily to legislative support for economic and social development.
Vladimir Putin: I have a few comments.
First, regarding the financing of our infrastructure facilities, primarily those in the energy sector and in communications. We most certainly need to consider everything seriously, so that never, under no circumstances do we have any setbacks in funding infrastructure facilities. This applies to electric power, the energy industry as a whole, and to communications. The Government is now working on it, and so is the Central Bank. If there is any need for a legislative move, I would like to ask you to react promptly.
The same is true of the national payment system. The Central Bank is working on it now together with the Government. This will take some time, but such systems are already successfully operating in such countries as Japan and China. They were launched as purely national systems, aimed exclusively at the home market, at the country and its population. Now they are gradually gaining in popularity.
The Japanese system was introduced as a national one, and now it operates in almost two hundred countries, I believe. Why can’t we do the same? We should, and we will. It is a pity some companies have made the decision to impose certain limits. I believe this will simply lead to a loss of certain segments of a very profitable market for them. This was not our decision – we need to protect our interests and we shall do so.
Now regarding de-offshoring. Here the Government is making progress, though not too quickly. We would like to ask legislators in both houses of Parliament to turn their attention to this issue and make the necessary decisions.
Now regarding the amnesty for capital. As you may know, we have already done this in the past, but there are a few problems involved here (I will not go into detail now). If we decide to do it, we should address every aspect and make sure we maintain social justice and comply with the laws of the Russian Federation. In short, I believe we should consider it, but there is no need to hurry.
Now over to implementing the Executive Orders of May 2012, primarily those pertaining to the social sphere, which have to do mainly with raising salaries. Most regions of the Russian Federation – the majority, I would like to stress — are managing despite all the difficulties.
Yes, we are aware of the situation with regional financing, and the Finance Ministry should react to this accordingly. However, the Executive Orders must be acted on. I would like the heads of Russian regions and the Senators that represent them in the Upper House of Parliament to proceed from this same approach.
Vladimir Putin: You have touched upon some very important and sensitive issues, primarily NGOs. I would like to say straight away that NGOs are a very important part of our civic society. There are many decent people there who perform an important function – they tell the authorities at all levels of their mistakes, their drawbacks. They often express the views of regular citizens and protect their interests where the authorities are inefficient. We should never forget this.
At the same time, we should improve our rules, our laws and the legal base. As we have discussed with representatives of the human rights community and parliamentarians, we need to specify the notion of political activity so that people whose activities have nothing to do with politics do not qualify as foreign agents. However, we should not leave any loopholes for those who are protecting the interests of foreign states within Russia rather than protecting the interests of citizens of the Russian Federation.
Here we have to carefully consider everything and calmly make decisions pertaining to the improvement of the legal base.
Now regarding legislation on citizenship. I agree that we have every right to know who lives in Russia and what they do. We should, of course, bear in mind your reference to other countries, where people have to say an oath of allegiance when they receive their citizenship. However, we should not overdo things here, and penalty [for failure to declare foreign citizenship] should not be excessive, though it should exist. The most important thing is that we have formalised this condition. As for responsibility – this is something you can consider together with other State Duma and Government members.
Regarding an analysis of all ‘colour revolutions’, including the latest developments in Ukraine: clearly, such an analysis should be made to protect our citizens from arbitrary actions of all sorts of ‘ultras’, terrorists and people with extremist views. Here I would also like you to be very careful. We should not get carried away and create conditions to protect our rights that would be unacceptable for civic society. Citizens of this country should always know that they have a set of tools, legal mechanisms they can use to make their discontent known to the authorities, including by organising protests, rallies and marches if no other means are successful. I would like to repeat that this should all be within the limits of law. Nobody should claim to have the right to exceed those limits.
Remark: Peaceful means…
Vladimir Putin: Only peaceful, absolutely.
However, the authorities should not create special conditions for themselves and hide behind repressive measures, expanding such repressive functions beyond any limit. There should be a balance, and this is the responsible approach I would like you to take in dealing with such issues. Naturally, we have to analyse the events taking place around us – both in the information sphere and in the protest movement. However, I call on you not to make any decisions on this wave that would significantly limit the civic freedoms and the rights of citizens to express their opinion. We should not go down this path.
Vladimir Putin: As for GMOs, I fully support you. We need to organise our work appropriately so that this does not contradict our commitments within the framework of the World Trade Organisation. But even taking them into account, we nevertheless have legal means and instruments to protect our own market and our own citizens, first and foremost from low-quality products, or in any case, products with unclear risks of their use in food and unknown effects on people. We can and must do this, and we will.
We discussed this recently at a permanent meeting of the Security Council. Let me repeat, we need to act carefully, so that this does not affect our commitments within the WTO framework, but this can be done.
At the same time, we must not forget about research and laboratory studies, but they are not related to the market or even the use of these GMO products in livestock farming, not to mention their use in human food. Unfortunately, we currently do not have this kind of comprehensive control, so we cannot be 100% certain as to how much of GMO products or their derivatives enter our market. But we will do this jointly with the public, with experts and with deputies. We will work to protect our citizens.
Chairman of The RUSSIAN FEDERATION COUNCIL'S FOREIGN AFFAIRS COMMITTEE AND PRESIDENTIAL SPECIAL REPRESENTATIVE FOR COOPERATION WITH AFRICAN COUNTRIES MIKHAIL MARGELOV: Mr President,
Last week, I had the opportunity to represent the CIS Interparliamentary Assembly at the 10th Anniversary session of the Pan-African Parliament in Johannesburg, South Africa. And the African leaders, many of whom know you personally, as well as parliament members and representatives of the political elite, all said unanimously: the world has changed in a historically short period of time. It has stopped being unipolar; A blow has been struck against double standards; the world has become entirely different.
And saying this, they stressed that we should not forget that the regions once referred to as “third world” – Asia, Africa, and Latin America – have always been our nation’s area of competitive advantage. They asked that when we say, “We don’t leave our own behind!”, we should remember them, those who are our friends on those continents.
Isn’t it time, in this regard, to consider that we really ought to return there? After all, in the 1990s, we closed embassies, closed “houses of friendship,” and we still have no regional branches of our Chamber of Commerce, or a mechanism to help promote our business in the new markets.
And those continents have the opportunities we can realise today – from participating in the creation of joint payment systems, for example, together with our Chinese partners, to space exploration projects with the Angolans. That’s point number one.
And second. Practically at the very beginning of the crisis in Ukraine, our Committee, acting on the instruction of the Federation Council, formed a temporary commission to monitor the situation in Ukraine. We have been to Kharkov for a congress of deputies at all levels, and Crimea before the referendum. We participated in a mission to monitor the referendum. This work will be continued, even though many of you, including those sitting at this table, have already been “graced” by the governments of the US, Canada and the European Union for your active stance. (Laughter.)
Vladimir Putin: I do not think this is something we should pay attention to. We must pay attention to the interests of our own citizens, our own people and our own nation. And I want to thank you for your support.
As for our work – on the African continent, for example – it is a highly important area. We cannot, must not and will not work there in the old format, the format that was costly for us, for our economy and for our budget. But we should not forget that these nations we are talking about have already adopted a different framework, including in terms of economy. These nations have very rich natural resources. And our businesses are already starting to work there. Of course, they need to be supported.
I think this work should be done by the Foreign Ministry and the Economic Development Ministry, whose structure includes a network of Russia’s trade missions abroad. And naturally, I count on the active position of deputies in the upper chamber and in the State Duma.
Mikhail Margelov: As your special representative for cooperation with African countries, I will continue this work.
Vladimir Putin: Ok.