President of Russia Dmitry Medvedev: Colleagues,
I would like to say a few words at the start of our meeting today. First of all, I wish you all a warm welcome to the Kremlin. I want to thank you for coming to Russia and taking part in the First Global Ministerial Conference on Road Safety and the International Transport Forum [Transport of Russia: Establishment, Development and Prospects]. Some of you are taking part in one event, and some in both.
Modernising and developing transport infrastructure are priorities for all countries and one of the most effective means of boosting economic growth, and Russia’s economy is no exception. Our efforts in this area will unquestionably lay foundations for the future and not just for our transport system at the national level, but for the international transport network too. There can be no doubt that drawing up a transport development strategy is one of the cornerstones for future cooperation between our countries. I hope that these topical issues are all on the agenda at the forum here in Moscow.
We are all striving to develop our transport networks today. Russia is making considerable efforts to expand its transport network, although, given its huge territory, Russia is also one of the most complicated countries in this respect. Transport infrastructure development has always been a very relevant issue in Russia. It was relevant 300 years ago and no doubt will still be relevant in 50 years to come, because economic growth, population spread, and resolving international issues will all require continued investment in developing transport links and infrastructure.
We are investing considerable sums of money in this field if you take into account investment as a whole in our economy. We have begun using concession agreements (a point I want to make separately), which until recently were something exotic here, though I must say that we are still in the process of learning how to use this instrument. There is still much to be done. Unfortunately, in my view, introduction of new technology for building roads and other transport facilities is not proceeding as fast we would like, but it is certainly our objective to get this process moving.
One of our priorities is to make traffic safe and convenient. We are all working together on building modern means of transport and adding to our transport safety systems. I made this point yesterday at the First Global Conference on Road Safety. I want to say again today that developing technical solutions is a very important task. In particular, we are currently drafting a special regulation on road safety, and we would like to coordinate this work with our colleagues from other countries.
The environment is another subject related to transport safety. This is a universal issue. I just came back from Singapore, where the Asia-Pacific region countries discussed this matter together. The day before yesterday, at the European Union — Russia summit in Stockholm, we also had quite in-depth discussions on environmental issues, climate change, and preparation for the Copenhagen conference. We realise the full importance of these issues and are aware that motor vehicles are one of the biggest sources of environmental pollution today. Motor vehicles account for around 40 percent of the liquid petroleum fuel burned today, and it is this that is the main contributor to emissions and the greenhouse effect. I therefore believe that environmental safety and energy efficiency should also be part of our discussions together. These are all related problems. And these are hard problems for all of us, but this does not mean that we can ignore them.
Russia has some truly unique possibilities to offer, and this is why we want to expand work on developing the North-South and West-East transport corridors. All we need to do for this is build modern multimodal logistics centres and improve procedures and facilities at the borders. Some steps have been taken already, but I think this is still not enough. The whole infrastructure support dimension of passenger and freight transport still takes far too much time. This is another area for further work.
Developing the cross-polar routes that are increasingly popular with freight companies all around the world is another promising area. The number of flights taking these routes is increasing every year. More than 12,000 such flights were made between 2001 and 2008. Around 600 transit flights follow cross-polar routes every month at the moment, linking the developing countries of Southeast Asia with the North American market. I think this is an area where Russia has possibilities of its own to offer.
Specialists calculate that northern routes transiting via Siberian airports could eventually become one of the main directions on the market for Asian-American transport links. A technical audit carried out showed that 14 airports in Siberia and the Far East could serve as reserve airports for cross-polar flights. I bring up this subject deliberately before this particular audience in order to underscore the unique possibilities that Russia can offer by virtue of its particular geographical location. We need to work with each of the countries present here to reach agreements on all of the issues involved, paying close attention, of course, to developing the international law basis of our cooperation, drafting new conventions, and improving existing international agreements in this area.
Coming to another subject that I think is logical to raise before this audience, aside from environmental threats and the climate change problems caused by transport, we all face a common threat to transport itself, namely piracy, pirate attacks on freight and passenger vessels. A few decades ago, this subject would have sounded exotic, like something out of books, because events of this kind were relatively infrequent.
But today we are witnessing a real explosion in piracy. This is essentially just as much a global challenge as terrorism and drugs trafficking. Many countries’ navies are now taking part in efforts to protect shipping, but the problem is still there and so we need to keep working. I made some decisions in this area just yesterday as it happens. But to be honest, the measures taken so far have not radically changed the situation, and there are several reasons for this.
First of all, piracy has become a rather profitable business, and one that is hard to control.
Second, I think the international community has not yet done enough to coordinate a common position. As a permanent member of the UN Security Council and participant in various international groups and organisations, Russia supports the drafting of coordinated action measures, including the establishment of a separate criminal court to try piracy cases. I do not overestimate the importance of this step, but I nevertheless consider it a step worth taking.
The problem is that when we do catch pirates, and Russia has done so on a number of occasions, no one knows what to do with them from there. If we return them to the place they came from the next day they are back in their boats and continuing their piracy business. Of course, we could always do as in mediaeval times and hang them from the masts, but that does not really fit with our ideas of what constitutes humane treatment.
The only alternative is therefore to improve the criminal legislation. A number of my European colleagues propose using national courts, in particular the courts of some of the countries located in the regions where pirates are most active, but I think that, unfortunately, this is no panacea. I think that we will have to come back to this idea or examine the possibility of giving the relevant powers to existing criminal courts.
There is one more important matter I want to say a few words on – the question of a barrier-free transport environment for people with disabilities. All countries have people with disabilities, and we need to think about how convenient the environment is for their use. It is our common duty to create an environment in which people with disabilities can be mobile. Next year, we plan to adopt a special five-year state programme, which we have called An Accessible Environment. I think this is an area in which we should also coordinate our approaches.
Once more, I want to welcome you all, thank you for taking part, and express my hope for close cooperation with you all on transport and infrastructure issues.