ON THE RESULTS OF THE G8 SUMMIT IN ST PETERSBURG AND THE EVACUATION OF RUSSIAN AND CIS CITIZENS FROM THE MIDDLE EAST CONFLICT ZONE
President Vladimir Putin: Good afternoon,
I would like to thank you all for your help in preparing the G8 summit in St Petersburg. Many members of the government took part, not only helping to prepare the different events but also informing the press and the public, that is, taking direct part in the work.
I remind you once again that the G8 is not an international organisation with a charter and a set of written goals. It is an international forum of eight countries that meet on a regular basis and that do not take directive and binding decisions and never have done.
But this forum brings together countries that are very influential in the world economy and in world politics and that coordinate their action in this or that area. The documents adopted by the G8 do no more than reflect the coordinated common effort to resolve common problems, but these documents are nevertheless important and have a significant impact in that they set out guidelines for the development and resolution of different issues.
I am pleased to note that we succeeded in finding common ground even when examining the most complex and unexpected issues. All the participants had a sincere desire to find acceptable compromise solutions and we did find such solutions.
I ask the Prime Minister to come up with proposals for thanking our colleagues who took an active part in this joint work. That is the first thing I wanted to say.
Second, an issue that is probably of much greater importance now, is the evacuation of Russian citizens from the Middle East conflict zone. Sergei Viktorovich [Foreign Minister Lavrov], you have the floor.
Sergei Lavrov: Vladimir Vladimirovich, we are working in two areas.
The first is the Gaza Strip. Yesterday we evacuated a group of Russian citizens who wanted to leave the conflict zone. We evacuated a total of 36 people – 26 Russian citizens, seven Ukrainian citizens and three Moldovan citizens. They were taken by land across Israel to Jordan and from there flew on an Emergency Situations Ministry plane to Moscow.
The evacuation from Lebanon is a far more complex operation. There are at least 1,500 Russian citizens there who want to leave, and hundreds – we are still clarifying the figures – of CIS citizens, mainly from Belarus but also from other CIS countries too. They are all in contact now with our representatives.
The situation is further complicated by the fact that we cannot extend this operation to cover all of our citizens because some of them are living in the south of Lebanon and have been cut off from the capital, Beirut, and from all reliable communications channels, and we have not managed to find a transport link so far.
Vladimir Putin: Can this not be done via Israel?
Sergei Lavrov: We are working on this issue and are in ongoing contact with the Israelis, who want to cooperate, particularly as concerns the main evacuation route through Israel. They informed us that they think the land route is the safest option. We were also looking at the possibility of evacuation by sea, and France and Greece have offered to take our citizens on board their ships free of charge, but the Israelis think this route is not as safe as the land route.
Evacuation via the land route has already begun today. The first group of six buses carrying 270 people has reached the Syrian border in the north and will arrive tomorrow at Lataki International Airport, from where an Emergency Situations Ministry plane will bring them to Russia. They will arrive in Moscow tomorrow. Several of these flights will be organised.
Tomorrow the main group of our citizens – 960 people in 20 buses – will leave by this same route and we hope that if all goes according to plan they will be in Russia the day after tomorrow.
As I said, we also have reserve options using the sea route and we have the possibility of using large transport helicopters to take people to Cyprus and from there to Moscow. That is another reserve option.
We are working closely with the Emergency Situations Ministry. A headquarters has been set up and so far everything is going according to plan (touch wood).
Vladimir Putin: So coordination has been organised at the appropriate level. Good. Thank you.
ON RECONSTRUCTION WORK IN CHECHNYA, VISITS TO DEFENCE INDUSTRY ENTERPRISES AND COUNTER-TERRORIST TRAINING EXERCISES IN THE NORTH CAUCASUS – DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER AND DEFENCE MINISTER SERGEI IVANOV
I can inform you that the Defence Ministry’s Special Construction Agency has set up a federal state unitary enterprise, Spetsstroi Rossii, which has already begun work. There are several aspects involved in the work being carried out in the centre of Grozny. First, there are the engineering studies, the work to clear the sites of debris, demolish destroyed buildings and facilities and recycle the material collected into crushed stone for subsequent use in construction, and most importantly, there is the laying of new roads and communications, the installation of gas, water and electricity systems without which further housing construction cannot be envisaged.
At the present moment Spetsstroi is developing 12 sites in the centre of Grozny. I visited these sites together with the Chechen leadership. There are 154 employees working there, most of them residents of Grozny. As we agreed at the meeting that took this decision last December, Spetstroi trains local people, trains its construction engineers and specialists from among Grozny residents, because the Chechens have always been good at construction and these skills are being developed again now.
To date, 50,000 cubic metres of soil and construction debris has been cleared from the sites in the city centre – just a couple of steps away from Minutka Square. The remains of weapons have been found in the ruins, and an air bomb was also found. Because of a chemical spill, 14 centimetres of soil is being cleared completely and taken to special landfills so that we can build on clean ground and in accordance with all the standards.
I have no doubt whatsoever that all the funds allocated for this work this year will be used, all the more so as the government resolution has already been issued, as we heard from Sergei Yevgenyevich. The funding will be used in full.
Since I was in the region, I also went to Botlikh, where we are in the process of building a mountain brigade. Of the 138 facilities that we need to build by the end of 2007, 68 have already been completed. This work is employing more than 2,000 people working in two shifts, and most of them are residents of the Botlikh District. The result is that there is not any unemployment in the district.
A new road has been built that considerably shortens the distance between Botlikh and Makhachkala. The road has already been completed. RAO Unified Energy Systems and Gazprom are fulfilling their obligations and have connected the district to the gas and electricity supply.
The Defence Ministry has built a new water collection facility for the residents and now for the first time in its history, this ancient town has clean water.
The district authorities and the Dagestan leadership have asked me to include the reconstruction of the medical centre and the school at the same time in the Botlikh District development programme. As for the mountain brigade itself, the facilities, including sports facilities and social facilities will be completed ahead of schedule because construction work is currently running ahead of schedule by three months.
In this respect we face a problem because our planned work for the year will be complete by the end of September and we will have used all the allocated funding. This means that unless another decision is made, we will have to let the construction workers go and then get them back again next January to continue the construction work. So, as I have already discussed with [Economic Development and Trade Minister] German Oskarovich Gref, the question now is about getting part of the funds for next year reassigned to this year. We would simply complete the project earlier than planned and would finish the brigade’s construction by mid-2007.
Furthermore, I also visited defence industry enterprises in the North Caucasus district, first of all the Rosvertol Plant in Rostov-on-Don, which has now begun series production of modern night-flying MI-28n battle helicopters. I also visited the Barrikady and Titan plants in Volgograd, which produce launch systems for the Topol-M strategic missile complex and the Iskander operational-tactical missile. We are buying 60 of these launch systems – five missile brigades – under our arms procurement programme.
All of these plants, except for Barrikady, are in a good financial situation. Barrikady does not have current debts now, but it does still have debts from past years and is in need of restructuring.
While in Volgograd I also inspected the state of progress with moving over to contract service in the 20th motorised rifle division. The entire division will be contract-based by the December 1. At the same time, we are reducing the number of facilities and sites occupied by the division on the territory of Volgograd itself.
The division will be stationed more compactly on the territory of Volgograd Region. The land freed up will be offered for investment auction and this will help resolve the housing issue for servicemen at the same time.
I also wanted to inform you that a series of counter-terrorist exercises are currently underway in the North Caucasus Military District. They involve around 6,000 servicemen and 250 pieces of equipment. These exercises are not big military exercises but are purely counter-terrorist in nature and involve battalions and companies acting autonomously in a number of regions in the south to carry out counter-terrorist missions. We are conducting these exercises in close coordination with the local authorities, and, where relevant, are combining with the Interior Ministry troops and border troops to carry out our counter-terrorist training.