Vladimir Putin: Good afternoon,
Allow me first of all to say a few words before we move on to the questions you think expedient to discuss. Two days ago a large group of representatives of the Chechen public launched an appeal to the Chechen people. Much in that appeal is absolutely consonant with my own position and the position of the Russian leadership.
Your initiative is timely, as I was saying today at a meeting with the Government leaders. Only recently I thought that perhaps there was no hurry and that we should take time to prepare. But if you yourselves feel that the time has come to step up these processes, I go along with you.
I agree with you that the terrorist act in Moscow was aimed above all to aggravate the situation in Chechnya. The terrorists are afraid that important, I would say, systemic changes have started taking place in Chechen society.
People there have come to believe in the process of return to normal, peaceful, human life. Hospitals, clinics and kindergartens have reopened. After many years Chechen children go to school again. Higher education institutions are working and there is growing competition for admission, which was unthinkable only a short while ago.
This year the Republic has brought in a record grain harvest, an all time record, including the Soviet period. Industrial enterprises are being restored and restarted. In the law enforcement sphere the Chechen police have been assuming an ever-larger share of the functions and real work on the ground. I would like to tell you that the Interior Minister of the Russian Federation today signed an order creating an Interior Ministry of the Chechen Republic.
The ongoing constitutional process in Chechnya poses a particular threat to terrorists and their accomplices. A possible political normalisation strikes the ground from under their feet. They are unhappy that the people of the Republic are consistently moving to restore full-fledged legitimate power.
You are absolutely right that this political process is the key to breaking out the vicious circle of meaningless and disastrous bloodshed.
Responding to your initiative I stress once again that the federal authorities are ready to engage in this political process together with you.
Not surprisingly, in this context the terrorists and their accomplices – including those abroad – have to fiddle with concepts. Instead of the already ongoing political process in Chechnya they are trying to foist on us some dubious negotiators. Those who only recently staged public executions in squares, engaged in slave trade, took hostages, murdered Russian and foreign journalists – in short imposed medievalism in Chechnya and compromised the Chechen people. What is it that these bandits “resist” today? Civilised laws of life? Whom are their foreign accomplices supporting? And with whom are they calling us to establish contacts and dialogue?
In this connection I think it would be wrong to pass over the figure of Maskhadov in silence. That man came to power in the Republic after Russia effectively recognized the independence of Chechnya in 1996, and I want to stress the word “effectively”. How has he used his power? What kind of a mess has he started? What has he done to Chechnya? And where has he led the Chechen people?
He brought the Republic to economic collapse, hunger, and total destruction of the social and cultural spheres; to genocide of representatives of other peoples who earlier lived in Chechnya; to numerous casualties among the Chechens themselves. It was he who brought about a war between Russia and Chechnya.
At the same time, in spite of all the political abuses, the Russian leadership has until recently been in contact with him, and I would like you to know that. Until the summer of 1999 the federal authorities had been providing financial and material resources to the Maskhadov administration as part of economic aid to the people of the Republic. The money was intended to pay pensions, wages and social benefits. But it never reached the ordinary civilians.
Maskhadov for his part alternately spoke about the destruction of odious terrorists, and I think you should know that he urged us to eliminate these people (few people know about it), or he would suddenly appoint them as his deputies. He would now organise bandit attacks and now condemn those who carried them out after they had failed.
In September of last year we invited him to resume direct talks. He sent his token representative to Moscow, but he avoided further contacts again. Instead of negotiations he chose the path of terror and threw his weight behind the villains who seized hundreds of hostages in Moscow on October 23.
Today, after the tragic events in Moscow I categorically state that those who choose Maskhadov choose war. All these people, wherever they are – on Russian territory or outside it – will be regarded as accomplices of terrorists.
And to those who wittingly or unwittingly, out of fear of the bandits or following the tenacious European tradition of appeasement, will continue to call us to sit down at the negotiating table with murderers, I would like to suggest they set us an example and first sit down at the negotiating table with bin Laden or mullah Omar.
These people too are not killing hundreds and thousands of innocent people just for kicks, they too put forward political demands. Demands to the USA, to the European and Arab states, over the Middle East, Kashmir, and in our case, over Chechnya. They lay claims to other regions of the world.
We are not against the settlement of disputed issues by political means. We are for it. But at the same time I would like to say that we separate terrorists and their accomplices from the political process.
Those who today impede the restoration of peaceful and civilised life in the republic are, like years ago, using the slogans of independence and so-called self-determination as a cover. Let us also discuss that honestly and openly.
In this connection I would like to remind you how separatism in Chechnya transformed itself into terrorism. It did not happen overnight. It is not today that Chechnya has become a hotbed and at the same time a victim of international terrorism.
Yes, the separatists made Chechnya embark on that path. I do not rule out that the people who propagated separatist ideas initially had very good intentions. Like many others who in the early 1990s tried to resolve a tangle of contradictions and crises that Russia faced during that period. And I do not rule out that their intentions were genuine.
But at the time other people took advantage of the difficulties of a complicated period of transition in Russian history, and they did so not in the name of noble causes. The ideas of separatism and the so-called independence of Ichkeria were quickly taken up by Wahhabists of the worst kind, nationalists and ultimately international terrorists. They used these ideas to cover up their own ideological and aggressive designs, which had nothing to do with the interests of the Chechen people. In fact, they were used to turn Chechnya into a springboard of international terrorism, to promote ambitious plans for attacking fraternal Dagestan and creating a medieval Caliphate from the Black to the Caspian Seas. What has that in common with the interests of the Chechen people?
In this connection I would like to stress the importance for Russia of resolving the Chechen problem. And I would like to say without mincing words what political irresponsibility, laxity or weakness could bring Russia.
When I speak about the need to secure the territorial integrity of Russia I proceed from the following conviction. If we do not solve the problem of Chechnya today, then tomorrow, like in 1999, fresh attempts will be made to create the notorious “Caliphate” which, according to extremists – and as you know, they speak about their plans openly – would include not only the whole of the North Caucasus, but parts of the Krasnodar and Stavropol regions.
But that is not all. Attempts to destabilise the situation in the multinational Volga area in Russia will inevitably follow. All this is intended to steer the events in our country according to the “Yugoslav scenario”. No way. I state with all responsibility that there will be no second Khasavyurt.
I want not only those present, but every Russian citizen, wherever he lives – in a large city or a small community – to know and understand what we mean when we speak about settlement in the Chechen Republic. We are referring not only to the fight against separatism or to a local conflict in a region of the Russian Federation. The fight against extremism and terrorism is today a fight for the preservation of the Russian state. This is what is at stake.
I would like to say one more thing. The situation in Chechnya at present is very complicated. And it is not just because of political problems. Everyday life in Chechnya is hard. The crisis has worn out the Chechen people themselves.
The fates of many Russian citizens have become entangled in problems: Chechens and representatives of other nationalities. Years of conflict have created many human dramas and led to losses of relatives and close ones. Sometimes brothers found themselves on opposite sides of the barricades. Non-Chechens were intimidated, robbed and murdered. They have been practically driven out of the Republic.
All that prompts us to try to sustain the already tangible movement towards a peaceful life in Chechnya. All that prompts us to unite to help the people who had been dragged into this fierce confrontation to return to normal human life. This is our main task.
And that is where your position and your active support are so important. That is why your work inside the republic is important. I know that you sincerely wish Chechnya and its people well. I am absolutely convinced that unless you show a civic attitude, the complicated problems facing Chechnya cannot be solved, its economy cannot be revived and refugees cannot be brought back.
We together should help all those who are ready to take a civic stand, who would like to contribute their labour and their money to the economy of Chechnya and who are capable of influencing the solution of its complicated social problems. Nowhere in the world have poverty and economic deprivation contributed to peace or stability.
At the end of the day our main task is to enable the people in Chechnya to work normally, to earn their living and sustain their children, to enjoy prosperity and calm in their families. We all want that, we have earned it by our suffering and this is our sincere wish.
Together we must do everything to make sure that the citizens of Russia – and I would like to stress, independently of their nationality, whether they live in its central part, in the North Caucasus or in any other part of our country – feel themselves secure and comfortable. Terrorists have an interest in fomenting anti-Chechen sentiments in Russia and building up tensions and social instability inside the Republic itself.
Finally, I would like to return to the initiative on speeding up the constitutional process. I agree with you that it is in the framework of this political process that we should seek agreed solutions, and attract new adherents to peaceful life on the long-suffering land of Chechnya.
I am ready to discuss with you any questions that you feel must be discussed.