Vladimir Putin: Good afternoon, dear friends,
I am really very happy to see you here at this forum, which represents so broadly all the regions of the Caucasus and the south of Russia.
Gathered here today are people of many ethnic groups and religions, people of different ages and professions. You have come here today to look for new approaches to strengthening harmony and solidarity among everyone in the region. Solidarity has always been the main prerequisite for development in this region. Without it, it is very difficult to achieve anything in general, and in regions like the Caucasus it is practically impossible. That is something I particularly want to emphasise. I want to add too, that this kind of cooperation is the result of efforts made by all citizens and all peoples living here, all those who strive for peace and prosperity in their own lands and in their country, all who want to be proud of the Caucasus and proud of Russia.
Over recent years, through our common efforts we have managed to stabilise the situation in the North Caucasus. We have achieved this stabilisation in a region that has suffered the most acute and dramatic manifestations of all the conflicts that emerged in the post-Soviet period.
Today, the situation has changed fundamentally. Armed confrontation and conflict are now becoming a thing of the past. In Chechnya, the most complicated region, peace is becoming irreversible. This means that we have managed to preserve our country’s territorial integrity, protect the constitutional rights of our citizens and create opportunities for economic growth.
All of this is of the utmost importance for the successful development of Southern Russia. Without economic development we all know that we will not be able to resolve cultural, religious or interethnic problems. Without it, Russian and foreign investors will remain unwilling to put their money into developing the south of the country. This makes achieving serious economic growth a fundamental task for all the regions in the Southern Federal District.
I must admit that the federal authorities in Moscow have not always paid sufficient attention to economic issues here, but I think that the heads of the southern regions will also agree that the regions themselves did not always work effectively over the past years, either to attract investment or to put in place conditions for developing business and creating new jobs.
Of course, there was a time when this was all understandable and explainable. Today, however, there should be no place for saying that the North Caucasus is a dangerous and unattractive region for investors. This region is like any other region in Russia, and in some ways it has even more advantages – geopolitical, natural and climatic advantages. There are immense opportunities here for creating small businesses, developing transport corridors, agriculture, health resorts and tourism. It is our common obligation to use these advantages to turn the south of Russia and the North Caucasus into a flourishing land and a major economic and cultural centre.
Today more than ever we need the political will of the regional authorities and the initiative of citizens, businesspeople and the entire public. We need you to come up with bold new approaches and develop viable economic projects. Of course, the importance of broad cooperation between your regions cannon be emphasised enough. This includes developing and expanding business ties, both within the southern region and with the communities of Caucasus peoples in other parts of the country and abroad. The foundation for stability in the region, to a large extent, lies in having strong economic ties between peoples, including with the Trans-Caucasus countries, ties developed through trans-border cooperation, business contacts, cultural and social contacts and through fostering trust and good-neighbourliness.
I am sure that all these efforts will meet the people’s support. Hard work has always been respected in Southern Russia. The main thing is to open up new opportunities for people to realise their potential and pursue their goals. People here are very active and all we need is to create the right conditions.
The North Caucasus is a major centre of diverse but united Russian spiritual culture. Any attempts to break this unity have always met with resistance, including from the Caucasus peoples themselves. We can see this by looking not just at events from long ago but also at recent examples from our history. Let’s just remember the events in Dagestan in 1999. The people of Russia and the peoples of the Caucasus share a common destiny.
Here at this forum, which has brought together both older generations and young people, I would like to recall Imam Shamil’s testament to his sons. He called upon them to remain loyal to the Russian state and to live in peace and harmony with its peoples.
This is why the efforts of traditional Islamic spiritual leaders are now particularly important. Their authority and the truth of their words are a bulwark against attempts to impose alien, extremist ideas upon the Caucasus peoples, ideas that are an attempt to pervert Islam and use it for selfish and aggressive purposes, for profit. It is very important that the cooperation that has built up here over the centuries is developing and receiving every kind of support, the cooperation between Christianity and our other traditional religions.
I want to add here that for Russia, the Caucasus is not just another region, and this is well known throughout our country. There is a special fondness for the nature of the Caucasus. The Caucasus and its history is something close to us all right from our time as schoolchildren.
We need to preserve and care for these feelings and relations. Whether preserving local customs and traditions or helping to build a new life, a great deal depends on you, the participants in this forum, and on the position you take and your willingness to enter into dialogue. Much also depends, of course, on the work that scholars, writers and people working in the cultural sphere do to educate the population.
In conclusion, I want to say once again that you live in a unique region that brings together many cultures and religions, and where a large number of peoples live side by side. Researchers were so astonished by the number of peoples here that they called the Caucasus “the mountain of languages”.
People of different faiths have lived in the south of Russia since ancient times and this has enriched their spiritual world. I would like to note the efforts made by all the religions represented in this region to support constructive interregional and interethnic dialogue.
Mutual understanding, assistance and friendship have always been the foundation of stability. There is no doubt that only people themselves can strengthen this foundation.
I wish you all success and prosperity. I am sure that together we can make this region peaceful and flourishing.