Vladimir Putin: Good afternoon,
This meeting is taking place on the eve of the bicentenary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. It is undoubtedly a historic date, and not only in the official chronology of Russian diplomacy, but also in the evolution of the Russian state itself. Today I would like to congratulate the Russian ambassadors present here and the entire staff of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on the approaching jubilee. I wish you all the best, and I congratulate you.
As you remember, at our meeting with the top officials of the Foreign Ministry in January last year we discussed the Foreign Policy Concept and took another hard look at our priorities and the Ministry’s internal problems.
Today, for the first time in 16 years, all the Russian ambassadors have been invited to take part in a serious conversation about the strategic aspects of foreign policy. Also present are the heads of key government agencies. I think you will agree with me that such a broad and direct dialogue is long overdue. More than 500 people are in attendance and I think it is important not only to hear each other’s speeches delivered from the podium, but for the colleagues to talk to each other.
The rapid development of the international situation and the emergence of entirely new threats or, should I say, an awareness of these threats among many of our partners makes it incumbent upon us to react promptly, to reformulate our tasks and make very crucial decisions.
I understand that this situation means an additional load on you. A tight schedule of international meetings is only a small part of the work that we have recently had to carry out.
I thank you all for your professional approach. It has contributed a great deal to strengthening Russia’s position in the world and broadening the circle of our allies.
There is a great deal still to be done. But it is obvious that in international relations Russia has managed to put the period of prolonged confrontation behind it. It is no longer seen as an adversary or an enemy and is increasingly seen as a predictable, truly reliable, businesslike and equal partner. As a matter of fact, we do not expect anything more from the surrounding world. Russia does not seek any preferences in international affairs.
Today I would like to dwell on the areas of foreign policy that I consider to be strategic and crucial.
That Russia’s principled stand has contributed to major successes in the fight against terror is no longer in question. But counteracting the terrorist threat is a serious long-term goal because terrorism itself has deep roots. And it should be our constant concern. It is the basic topic in our relations with all the members of the anti-terrorist coalition. And this work must be pursued not only through diplomatic talks and contacts between the secret services, but also by strengthening the international legal framework.
And of course, the fight against terror must remain the central theme in our interaction with our partners at the UN Security Council, which remains the key organisation in resolving these kinds of issues, our partners in the CIS, the CST and the SCO and other international and regional organisations.
In the strengthening of global stability particular responsibility of course devolves on Russia and the US. Therefore it is important to know that our relations today are based on a new reading of the national interests of the two countries and on our similar ideas about the character of modern world threats. Let me stress again that trust and partnership between Russia and the US are in the interests not only of our peoples. It has a positive impact on the whole system of international relations and therefore remains an undoubted priority for us.
The recent months have seen an unprecedented level of Russian activity in Europe. I mean the Russia-EU and Russia-NATO summits and a whole series of bilateral contacts.
Some new benchmarks have appeared in our work with the Europeans. Along with the problems of security and traditional trade and economic issues other well established items on our agenda are long-term energy interaction and high technology innovative projects.
It is well known that our European partners reject abstract diplomacy. All their diplomatic moves are geared to achieving concrete results. And we for our part must not forget that Russia’s main task here is to be directly involved in forming a common economic space.
I would like you to be very clear on the limits of compromise. In this context we should engage in a dialogue on the problems of the Kaliningrad region in connection with the forthcoming expansion of the EU.
I repeat, it is possible to coordinate positions and arrive at compromise decisions, but not at the expense of our country’s interests or the rights of our citizens.
Work within the CIS is a special issue. The Commonwealth is an organisation on an international scale. And it is well capable not only of projecting influence, but assuming the responsibility for the solution of a wide range of issues in a huge region. They include security, economic and humanitarian cooperation in Eurasia.
I am convinced that Russia’s economic upsurge and the successes of our partners lend a new quality to the prospects for integration in the CIS. It is heartening to see these processes increasingly coming to be dominated by an attitude of pragmatism and the interests not only of the states, but of the business communities of our countries.
In this connection I would like to ask the ambassadors and all the workers at the Russian Foreign Ministry to do their best to contribute to successful cooperation within the CIS. It is our shared advantage in the context of global economic competition. It is a guarantee of our joint successes in international politics and in the strategic spheres.
To conclude this part of my remarks I would like to touch upon one more fundamental issue: does Russian foreign policy remain global in terms of its coverage? I am aware that this is a frequently asked question. The answer is that of course it does. Not only because of our military or economic potential, but also because of geography. We are present in Europe, in Asia, in the North and in the South. Of course we have interests there. It can’t be otherwise.
But that means that Russia should look for partners and allies everywhere: in Europe, in Asia, in Africa and in Latin America. But they should be partners who reckon with and recognize our national interests. Most importantly, our interaction with them must be equal and bring real returns to Russia. And we should work with such partners in a painstaking, consistent and respectful manner.
I have already said it and I feel duty-bound to repeat it: today many see Russia not only as an ally, not only as a business partner, but also as a rising economic rival.
Therefore diplomatic support for our national business must at long last be put on a systemic and long-term footing. We should not be coy about such actions. You know how your foreign colleagues behave in that respect in many countries, including here in Russia: they are very persistent, to put it mildly. Sometimes they go beyond the boundaries of traditional diplomacy. But they are often successful.
The key issues here are preparation for accession to the WTO, protection of the domestic producer against discrimination, increasing Russia’s credit rating and diplomatic support for military-technical cooperation programs.
Assisting in the preparation of the EXPO-2010 exhibition in Moscow is a serious practical challenge. We believe that it will be an additional trump card in attracting new technologies, in looking for new partners and an important lever in developing our economic partnerships.
It is not my task to cover all the areas of the activities of the Foreign Ministry. But there is one sore problem that I must touch upon, and that is work with our fellow countrymen abroad. This is about the destinies of people and their immediate vital problems. This area does not tolerate a formal approach or bureaucratic indifference.
I urge you to pay the closest attention to the issue. We should help our fellow countrymen in legal, educational and business terms. And yet one can see from your reports and the complaints from citizens that many missions still regard this problem as secondary. That is not right. I assure you, it is a big mistake. And that will be one of the criteria by which we will assess the performance of individual embassies. I must say that in many geographical areas that work has picked up recently, but much has still to be done.
I would like to say a few words about the organisation of diplomatic activity. Ambassadors are appointed by presidential decrees and the embassies you head up are not simply separate agencies. They represent the country’s interests abroad. That gives you broad powers, but also increases your responsibility.
At the previous conference at the Foreign Ministry we discussed the quality of the information supplied by the embassies. One would like to see it not only as a situation report, but, above all, as a professional analysis and competent forecasting. To be able to do that one does not only need to know the situation in the host country, but, very importantly, one must know the situation in Russia. One must know what is happening here. One must know the inner springs that develop the political situation at home. And of course one must have a clear idea of the interconnection between the tasks facing our country and the situation in the world at large. We don’t need formal reports. Equally, you should not wait to receive detailed instructions and concrete requests from Moscow. That said, I expect that the central staff of the Foreign Ministry will act in a purposeful manner.
Obviously, the degree of your initiative depends on your qualifications and political background and the ability to take a broad view of certain events. But I would also like the Foreign Ministry to be more attentive to the reasonable initiatives that emanate from our diplomatic missions. They should receive help in initiating actions that could bring about breakthroughs in various areas of foreign policy work. And I must say that such initiatives exist and I am genuinely pleased to read some of these documents. They really help me in my work. Last time I said that I read practically everything you write, and I confirm it today. Many things help the country’s leadership to develop practical steps in the field of foreign policy. That is why I stress the issue of the quality of work.
Special mention must be made of the coordinating role of the Foreign Ministry. Let’s face it, there are still very many problems in the coordination of foreign policy and foreign economic activities. First of all, I should mention shortcomings in organising interagency cooperation. Even the most obvious current assignments given to ministries and agencies often tend to be “palmed off” to other ministries and even to the President’s staff. Let me stress that the Foreign Ministry has been vested with all the necessary powers. All that is needed is to exercise them in a competent and effective way.
I would like you to keep in mind one other thing: the country’s foreign policy is shaped not only by the federal agencies. It is also shaped by the efforts of domestic companies and business communities and by the activities of the regions, which are building up cross-border and interregional cooperation.
And here the Foreign Ministry and the Russian ambassadors must act not only as coordinators, but as interested partners. Which means that they must closely cooperate with other international agents, and provide them with legal, methodological and organisational support. And of course, they must remain the proponents of the interests of the state as a whole.
Finally, one more important issue is excessive standoffishness and inability to work with the media and other institutions of the civil society. It is still our common problem, and it is holding us back. Your ability to influence public opinion has a direct impact on how Russia is perceived in the world. And anyway, it is part of your job. In fact, the prestige of the Ministry itself hinges on how effective you are in this area of activity. I think that many of the things that are to the credit of the Foreign Ministry pass unnoticed by the general public or invite criticism. People often do not understand what the Foreign Ministry is up to. The Ministry should explain it in a competent and talented way.
A few words about the personnel policy. Our diplomats have always cherished the traditions of the state and of their own profession. An awareness of the strategic role of Russia in world processes and the continuity of our diplomatic activities are key features of Russian foreign policy.
Some outstanding personalities have worked in the diplomatic field. Russian diplomats have been famous for their excellent and wide education, their broad political horizons, culture and tact. One reason for the shortage of personnel is the low salaries of diplomats. But some of these issues have been solved during the past year. The salaries of diplomats working abroad have been revised. And Foreign Ministry employees benefit from the overall increase of salaries to civil servants. The pensions of retired diplomats have been raised.
The prestige of the diplomatic service must be enhanced, that is obvious. But the Foreign Ministry should consider not only the social aspects, important as they are, and in fact, I mentioned it as a top priority when speaking about work with human resources, but also other aspects, and create incentives for the career and professional growth of employees. We should not hesitate to use specialists working in other agencies, and we all know of some shining examples of that. Even the former government chairman has agreed to head up one of our embassies abroad. And I think it has been a successful experience.
We should give thought to strengthening MGIMO [Moscow State Institute of International Relations] and bringing in scientists and members of non-governmental organisations. It has happened in the history of diplomatic service before and it has proved to be useful. One has to remember that corporate insularity tends to deplete professional potential.
There are still not enough women in the diplomatic establishment. This is particularly noticeable in this room. And yet it is not the traditional nomenklatura selection but our modern life that has already produced in Russia many highly competent women civil servants. And we should be aware that the absence of the so-called weaker sex in Russian diplomacy (unlike in many other countries) may turn out to be a weakness of our foreign policy service.
To complete my remarks, I would like to stress that national success is achieved not only through hard work inside the country, but through political and economic successes in the world.
Considered diplomatic moves, the ability to make allies – all that directly contributes to the authority of our country, to economic growth and to strengthening the positions of Russian business. The latter is especially important because it opens up new opportunities for citizens’ initiative, makes their lives more secure, affluent and far more comfortable.
Let me repeat, addressing this audience, that the country’s huge potential has been preserved. In spite of all the problems and losses the potential of our country remains vast. And it is being actively developed. But to reveal it to the full is our common task, and it is a realistic task.
I wish you all the best in your work.
Thank you very much for your attention.