President of Russia Dmitry Medvedev: We have always been involved in the CIS, but for this work to be more organised and more significant, I have specifically created a separate agency for CIS affairs [the Federal Agency for CIS Affairs, Compatriots Abroad and International Humanitarian Cooperation] of which you are in charge. Its aim is clear: our relations with the CIS countries are Russia’s most important foreign policy priority. Unfortunately, this priority isn’t always treated the way it should be, and in fact that was the purpose of setting up a new agency to deal with this.
You have been working on this for a while now and no doubt have a sense of how things are going, how relations with the CIS countries are developing and, most importantly, how this new means of communication – i.e. your agency – is functioning. Tell us about what has been done, what you think still needs work, and what you see as weak spots that require more attention at the level of heads of state. Please go ahead.
DIRECTOR OF THE FEDERAL AGENCY FOR CIS AFFAIRS, COMPATRIOTS ABROAD AND INTERNATIONAL HUMANITARIAN COOPERATION FARIT MUKHAMETSHIN: Thank you. The new federal agency has proved its relevance for government agencies both at home and abroad. The creation of this agency was perceived by our foreign partners as yet another confirmation that the CIS is Russia’s priority, and by our compatriots as an increase in the attention paid by the Russian leadership to their aspirations and concerns, including the strengthening of inter-state cultural ties.
In this regard, if I may, I would like to begin with our priorities, namely Russian research and culture centres. Already this year we have opened such centres in Chisinau, Baku and Yerevan. An intergovernmental agreement is due to be signed with Belarus on June 9, following which a similar centre will open in Minsk. Similar agreements are being drawn up with Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan, and branches in Ukraine and Kazakhstan are expanding. These are our priorities.
In consultation with the Foreign Ministry and our Russian ambassadors we have prepared an action plan through to 2020. If we succeed in putting the whole plan into practice, by 2020 representatives of our federal agency will be working in more than a 100 countries and Russian research and culture centres will be in all major countries.
(Farit Mukhametshin went on to talk about working together with federal agencies and the Russian Academy of Sciences to develop a new programme called Russian Language. It will involve holding conferences and exhibitions – with a special emphasis on innovative ones – in 18 different countries, and the development of a new plan that will be responsible for more than ten major events as of next year and involve many interested organisations.)
Dmitry Medvedev: In order to succeed we need proper, trained personnel who are focused on results, all the more so because this is creative work. I’ve looked into this and you don’t seem to have a lot of staff for these centres. Do you think that it’s enough to hand out the various jobs, or do you require additional staffing? What do you think?
Farit Mukhametshin: We don’t have enough staff. We are now looking to deal with this in a couple of different ways.
First, we have gone to the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and its schools to train personnel to work in our centres. We particularly need people who speak rare languages.
Next we propose to work in this regard with the Ministry of Education and Science and the Russian Academy of Sciences, since their programmes are very interesting and extensive. And we have identified more than 20 countries for this sort of work.
Dmitry Medvedev: Let me say first and foremost in this case that the CIS states are our foreign policy priority, although of course the centres in other countries that deal with these issues should also be staffed by specialists.
I would like you to return to this topic once again, because many states – and you know the ones I’m talking about – have been very active in post-Soviet space, and spare no effort or expense to fund their own personnel on site. And no doubt their own foreign policy priorities are driving these measures. This is all the more reason that we should give these issues our utmost attention, because let me emphasise once again that we’re not talking about any countries that are just out there somewhere, but about our immediate neighbours with whom we share a past and let us hope a future too.