Vladimir Putin: Good afternoon, colleagues,
I would like to begin today’s meeting with the tragic events that took place last night here in Moscow. There was a fire at the University of People’s Friendship, and we know that lives have been lost and that there are many victims. We will talk separately about the causes of this fire and about how the rescue work was organised. I would like now to ask the Deputy Internal Affairs Minister about what happened and whether there is as yet even preliminary information about what caused this fire.
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I have signed a decree creating a presidential council to fight corruption. We talked about this at previous meetings. The document is ready and has been signed, and I call on the Presidential Executive Office to do everything in its power to help organise this council’s work.
As you know, the budget has now gone through the third reading and been approved, and this week we need to complete work on it together with the State Duma deputies and pass it in the fourth reading. I hope that it will indeed be approved and that work will then continue at this pace with the Federation Council in order to complete this whole process as soon as possible.
A law on re-registration of land has also been passed. This is what we discussed at the congress of the Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs. This is a very important decision for the business community. I would like to thank the Government and the State Duma deputies for making sure this decision was approved so rapidly.
We still have to complete work on the bill on currency regulation and on insuring personal bank deposits. This is also very important.
A bill proposing amendments and additions to the Federal Law “On the Status of Military Personnel” has been introduced to the State Duma. This bill will enable the Armed Forces to recruit servicemen on a contractual basis, and this above all concerns the permanently combat-ready units.
Finally, after lengthy discussions with the regions and fishing companies, we have decided to change procedures for allocating fishing quotas. We have to ensure in this work that the way these procedures are enforced is in keeping with the situation and the interests of the state and the market participants.
Now a few words about the events in Georgia. We see nothing unexpected in these events. The change of regime in the republic is a logical result of a series of foreign, domestic and economic policy mistakes made by the former authorities.
The country’s foreign policy failed to take into account the deep cultural and historical roots of the Georgian people and the current geopolitical situation. Domestic policy, instead of strengthening democratic institutions and the foundations of Georgian statehood, gave us a display of futile political lobbying by various political forces in the country, and economic policy was reduced to no more than a battle for humiliating handouts from abroad. Georgia’s foreign debt rose to $2 billion – approximately 60% of the country’s GDP – and the country was essentially in a state of default.
Over recent years around 1 million people have left Georgia, many of them settling in Russia. Georgian specialists themselves estimate that the sum total of currency inflow from Russia, both official and shadow flows, comes to around $2 billion a year – far more than the total foreign aid the country receives. We, of course, are aware here of the difficult situation the Georgian population is in and of the low incomes there. I think the problem is not just that people are living badly, but they can no longer even see any light at the end of this long tunnel. Corruption has taken more and more of a stranglehold on the country’s political and economic life.
Relations between Georgia and Russia have not always been simple over recent years. We have each had our share of complaints about the other and Russia certainly had plenty of questions for the former Georgian authorities. But what is very clear, and what I want to emphasise, is that Eduard Shevardnadze was never a dictator. This is why we feel a legitimate concern at the way pressure was used to help bring about this changeover. Those who organise such actions and those who encourage them take upon themselves an enormous responsibility towards their people, in this case the Georgian people, with whom Russia has a tradition of centuries-old fraternal relations. We hope that the future legitimately elected authorities in Georgia will do everything within their power to restore these traditions of friendship between our countries. This can be the only objective of Russia’s policy towards Georgia.