President Vladimir Putin: Good afternoon, dear colleagues. The annual agenda of the State Council begins with a discussion of one of key state policy lines – international. We more than once addressed this question at Security Council meetings, at district conferences and in the course of meetings with representatives of the Federal Assembly.
The continuation of this discussion here is, of course, important and timely. All the more so as it will centre on participation of the regions in ensuring the external interests of Russia.
The coordinator of foreign policy activities is the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. But the strengthening of the country positions, enhancement of its prestige in the world, the introduction of Russian goods in international markets, the protection of the rights of Russian citizens abroad and of the interests of our enterprises abroad – this is far from being the question of one agency alone. It calls for coordinated actions of all the branches and levels of power and of the structures of civil society and enterprise.
I would like to stress: the formulation and implementation of an international strategy is by no means an ”elitist“ activity today. It has to become continual, systemic and routine work in the regions as well. And the task of federal authority is to help them pursue it in the most productive way, which, in its turn, should raise the effectiveness of Russian diplomacy as a whole.
In this connection the logic of actions by federal authority should be comprehensible to all the actors engaged in international activity. And therefore the first condition of successful integration of the regions into this work is that they should be well informed and aware of the main foreign policy priorities and have knowledge of Russia's initiatives and international projects.
And, finally, one more important condition. The regions must have real practical and effective tools of work in this complex and very responsible field. But the main thing which should not be forgotten is that foreign policy has to work for the good of the ordinary citizens of our country, and that its results should have a direct effect on the lives and prosperity of people — the solution of a whole number of problems of crossing borders, of work abroad, of contacts with relatives and friends abroad.
I would like to note that the territories as a whole make quite efficient use of the resources and powers they have. But in today's rapidly changing environment, we need also more flexible instruments of coordination, and direct channels for informing each other of the priority international tasks of Russia.
A key line of state policy was and remains our work with the countries of the Commonwealth of Independent States.
Most people in our country still do not perceive cooperation with these states as an entirely international activity. They can be understood, as the family, relation and the old economic ties, business contacts in their essence remain intact. But it is not so much the federal, as precisely the regional authorities that should help citizens overcome the difficulties here.
It has to be said that the Federation subjects have already assumed a considerable portion of this work. They have achieved successes in interregional and cross-border cooperation, in trade and in social and economic projects with their neighbours.
Today not only the Federation, but also the regions have daily to concern themselves with the problems of compatriots and with the not simple migration issues and cultural links with contiguous areas. Moreover, such ”humanitarian activities“ mean for the interests of the country no less than the activities of Russian business abroad.
There are already some examples of successful international cooperation in the new conditions, on a fundamentally new, reciprocally advantageous basis and the extensive factual material presented by the Working Group is testimony to this.
In this connection I shall permit myself to mention also the packed agenda of the Year of Ukraine in Russia, in the conduct of which many regional partners of federal authority were involved. You also know about our joint upcoming plans to hold a Year of Russia in Ukraine and a Year of Kazakhstan in Russia.
One more observation. The work of the territories in international regional organizations of both an economic and a humanitarian nature looks very promising. This is necessary both for the popularization of the Russian language and for the preservation of the national, linguistic and cultural legacy of the peoples of the Russian Federation.
Thus, pragmatism and an equal and mutually beneficial partnership have already become the principles of not only federal foreign policy, but also of regional approaches to international affairs. And what is particularly important – of late the territories have increasingly been using external resources for the accomplishment of their internal tasks. That approach can only be welcomed, developed and supported.
At the same time the role of the regions in international affairs can and should be enhanced. For this in the first place it is necessary to use more effectively the existing, and develop new instruments of federal support. I think that as in the case of the promotion of the interests of Russian companies abroad, the question can be raised of targeted support and a diplomatic backing of regional economic interests. Both the Federation and the regional participants in international activity are equally interested in this.
There exists a substantial potential for cooperation between central and regional agencies also in dealing with the issues of the Russian citizens rights’ protection, both abroad and within the country. Thus, the result of intensive joint work has been the decision on the problem of Kaliningrad transit, meeting both the interests of the country and the requirements of this particular region and in accord with protection of the civil rights of the entire population of Russia. This work is not yet completed, but quite substantial progress has been made.
In addition, the first task of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and other federal agencies I believe is to look for new instruments of effective practical cooperation with the regions.
The government should feel the pulse of the regions. And the territories should more actively influence the formation of the Russian state's international strategy and practice. And they all together should remember that the results of their work influence the life and prosperity of our citizens. Influence directly in the present-day circumstances.
In this connection I draw attention to the proposal which came in the course of yesterday's meeting of the Presidium of the State Council from our colleagues – notably, the proposal that a kind of Council of Heads of the Regions should be set up within the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
I also feel that our representations abroad should more actively reach out to the developing regional centres of foreign countries, just as our partners do with respect to Russia. Far from everything that represents the interests of our country is being decided in the capitals now, and therefore the Russian diplomats ought to master the regional level of work with foreign partners better.
I also ask the State Council to express its opinion on how to increase the output from bilateral intergovernmental commissions on economic, scientific and technical cooperation. In their work, the representatives of the subjects of the Federation often participate in an entirely nominal way.
It is important to provide not only informational, but also methodological support for the regions. Federal assistance is required to e train and retrain regional personnel for international cooperation. And what is extremely important is that there should be a rotation of diplomatic officials in Moscow by attracting trained personnel from the territories.
In relation to personnel I would like to note as well that the hot issue now is preparing qualified regional specialists for working on the problem of Russia’ access to the World Trade Organization.
By the way, apart from this task within the WTO framework, we need serious informational work with the regions, an inventory of regional and local laws, and more precise account of Russia's economic interests, which cannot be thoroughly understood without referring to the practice of work in the regions of Russia.
And, finally, a serious problem – the deficiencies of the legislative base with respect to the international work of the regions.
Many subjects of the Federation are suggesting that a special federal law should be adopted governing the range of issues of cross-border cooperation. Let us discuss this with due regard for the comprehensive development of the infrastructure of the borders, of the system of border and customs control.
These are all the questions that we constantly raise at our regional meetings.
Once again I shall stress that the Russian factor in international affairs has now noticeably grown, and it is quite able to increase further through competent work in the territories.
Dear conference participants. In conclusion, I would like to once again note that the extensiveness and level of international tasks now facing Russia demand efficient coordination and high effectiveness in the work of all the levels of authority.