Correspondent: We are now on board the Kazan motor vessel. A meeting of the State Council devoted to the problems of water management ended here just a few minutes ago. The poor quality of drinking water and mismanagement of water resources were discussed. Are there any results that you can report?
Vladimir Putin: I have just talked with your colleagues. And I think the main result is not the concluding stage of the work, but what has been done by a group of experts and the heads of regions under the leadership of the Rostov Governor. I think they have prepared a very good and solid document which will undoubtedly form the basis of the policy of the state and the practical activities of the Government of the Russian Federation in this critical sphere for all of us. And our meeting to discuss the results of that work has, I repeat, just given the finishing touches to what has been accomplished by the Rostov Region Governor, Chub, and his colleagues over several months. It is a vital topic for our country, for the economy and the environment. And I must admit that we have not paid due attention to it recently. It involves everything: health, fish resources, transport and drinking water. It is our environment. I repeat, a programme has been mapped out. It will form the basis of the government’s practical activities. In my opinion, this is the most important thing.
Correspondent: I suggest that we discuss water, especially since our path will go through the Sea of Azov. It is no secret that the Sea of Azov almost became a bone of contention between Russia and Ukraine. One reason is that Russia forbids fishing sturgeon while Ukraine allows it. And it is one sea. Is there any possibility to come to an agreement with Kiev at the government level to establish order in the Sea of Azov?
Vladimir Putin: We have already said that Russia’s southern border is a new border for us in many places, including the Sea of Azov. Our approach is that the Sea of Azov must be an inland sea of Russia and Ukraine so as to best meet the national interests of the Russian Federation and Ukraine. Because a different regime would allow countries outside the region or countries that have no direct access to the Sea of Azov to feel that they are full- fledged participants in the process, if not its masters. Do we need that? This approach is shared by our Ukrainian colleagues. Some issues have yet to be discussed and a final decision on them has yet to be taken. You know that on the whole we have completed a very important stage of our work to normalise the situation on the Russian-Ukrainian border. Normalise it in terms of the documents, because, thank God, we have no problems on our border. As regards the land border we have in fact completed that work. Some more work remains to be done together on the Sea of Azov. But we have a common understanding and of course the Sea of Azov must not and will not separate us. It will be a uniting factor. I have no doubt about it. This is witnessed by the decisions of the Russian-Ukrainian Commission, which has banned the harvesting of sturgeon since 2002, and the sturgeon population is indeed in a deplorable state. That commission determined the quotas of catches for research purposes both for the Russian Federation and Ukraine. I do not remember the concrete figures but they meet the requirements of both sides and match the volumes that were caught by the corresponding entities in former years. As for illegitimate criminal fishing, these activities constitute an international crime and of course we must pool our efforts with Ukraine in combating it. I know that our Ukrainian colleagues intend to work in the same mode. By the way, we discussed it yesterday with the Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma. In fact we have agreed to revisit the problem of the Sea of Azov and perhaps we will go there together.
By the way we have joint issues with Ukraine not only here on the Sea of Azov. Your colleague just asked a question about the agenda of the meeting of the State Council Presidium today. One of the participants in our meeting, Governor Savchenko [Belgorod Region], noted that the concept proposed by the State Council’s working group ignores the problems of the Dnieper basin. And he is the head of the region which has many tributaries of the Dnieper. The Dnieper is a great river Ukraine is very proud of. The issue will depend among other things on how we go about solving these problems. We are interested in constructive work with each other.
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Correspondent: One more question. The Rostov Region can be regarded as a model of inter-ethnic relations in Southern Russia. Still, we are about to have an election. It has practically started. Some parties and some candidates for deputy are campaigning under the flag of nationalism and chauvinism. What is your attitude to this?
Vladimir Putin: To campaign under the flag of nationalism and chauvinism is always the easiest and the most harmful thing for those for whose sake it is supposed to be done. It is a false thesis which cannot be tolerated in a multinational country. If we want to destroy our country then we can welcome it. If we want to preserve Russia, we should not just resist it, we should wage a tough and consistent fight against it. We should inculcate to all, to the whole population, a zero tolerance of such manifestations. And of course it is inadmissible in the course of election campaigns. My attitude to this is highly negative.