President of Russia Vladimir Putin: Good afternoon.
I would like to congratulate you on the 170th anniversary of the Russian Geographical Society’s establishment. It so happened, as I already said today, that we are here in Crimea on this very day, examining a rare object dated by experts to the 10th-11th century.
This is a galleon that sank opposite Balaklava Bay as it carried civilian cargoes – a very interesting object. I believe you have come to hear my impressions.
This vessel is yet to be studied by experts. There are not so many objects of this kind in the northern part of the Black Sea. Although back at the beginning of the century Russian and foreign experts tried to conduct research here, it was the Russian Geographical Society that had the fortune to discover this object, which is very good.
This is particularly interesting because the object dates back to the 10th-11th century, which is the time of the establishment of Russia’s statehood and the development of ties with Byzantium and other countries. Therefore, I believe this would be interesting for both experts and the general public, as it would encourage us all to pay greater attention to national history, to studying it, searching for something new and using it for today and for the future.
I will be happy to answer any questions you might have.
Question: I would like to ask a general question, if I may, about your trip to Crimea.
Vladimir Putin: Yes, please.
Question: The Ukrainian President made a statement regarding your visit here, saying it exacerbates the situation. He said Crimea’s future lies only within Ukraine. Could you comment on this?
Vladimir Putin: No, I will not comment on anything in this regard, because the future of Crimea has been determined by the people who live here. They voted in favour of reuniting with Russia. Period.
Question: This is not your first submersion, Mr President. What were you looking for under the sea?
Vladimir Putin: As I have already said, this is a very important discovery that allows us to see how the situation developed in the Black Sea area in those ancient times, in the 10th-11th century, and to understand how Russia’s relations with its neighbours developed, how the Russian statehood was established. Therefore, I am certain that such research is important both for experts and the general public.
Question: Mr President, could you tell us what the ship looks like? What did you see there?
Vladimir Putin: You know, it is very difficult to see the entire vessel down there. According to preliminary data, because this is all on the seabed and covered (at least whatever is on the surface) with some 40 centimetres of silt, this seems to be a vessel 27–30 metres long and about 13–15 metres wide. There is also a large number of objects, including parts of the ship and many amphoras scattered all over the place there. However, specialists have to carefully study everything they find.
Question: Mr President, do you manage to find time for work during such exciting expeditions? Did you perhaps have a chance to discuss the exchange rate with the Government members in charge of the economy? Unfortunately, the ruble is falling again.
Vladimir Putin: No, we did not go into it during these past few days. However, I do know that the Government is treating this issue as its top priority. We have just discussed this with Mr Medvedev, he stayed here on the boat. We spoke about it, and we work on it every day; however, the trip to Crimea has to do with other matters. As you may have seen, yesterday we were working on the development of tourism, which, I believe, is very important, particularly for regions like the Crimean Federal District, the Caucasus, the Far East, parts of Siberia, and Altai. The second part of the day was dedicated to a meeting with representatives of public organisations, ethnic public organisations and associations. Tomorrow we will have another working day. Together with my colleagues, the leadership of the security agencies, both local and federal, we will discuss issues within their authority.
As for the economy, I would like to repeat that this is something we address every day; however, there have been no special discussions yesterday or today, and none are planned for tomorrow.
Question: Mr President, could I ask another question about the economy? While we were here, there appeared reports that Vladimir Yakunin has been nominated for the post of Senator from Kaliningrad Region.
Vladimir Putin: Is this an economic question?
Question: Yes, I believe this may mean that he will leave his post as head of Russian Railways, and this is a significant part of the economy. Do you support his decision?
Vladimir Putin: It is his choice. Every person sees their future as they believe is right. Mr Yakunin has been working long and successfully as the head of Russian Railways. You are right in saying that this is an important infrastructure company, but we will discuss this with him later, he is on leave now – so we will talk about it when he returns.
Question: Mr President, a question that is not directly linked to today’s theme, if I may, though it is generally on the same subject. In autumn, Dmitry Peskov [Presidential Press Secretary] said you were not planning any scientific research, given the complicated international situation.
Vladimir Putin: What kind of research?
Remark: Your press service said there would be no scientific research in autumn or winter, considering the overall tensions.
Vladimir Putin: What kind of research? I do not understand what you are talking about.
Remark: Scientific research.
Vladimir Putin: You know, I am not involved in scientific research yet.
Question: But you went down with the pilot just now and there was all this pseudoscientific work.
Vladimir Putin: Right. This was not actually scientific work; scientists do the real research. This was yet another attempt at alerting our people to our history, to the development of the state and the country’s statehood, especially in this region. This was merely participation in events that should promote an interest in this country’s history.
Question: Do you think the overall situation is conducive to such trips, to distractions from the main agenda, internationally and locally?
Vladimir Putin: Now listen; you saw that yesterday I met with the heads of public organisations, which is quite important for Crimea, considering the ethnic aspect. As I said yesterday, last year’s census showed that 68 percent of the population here are Russians, 16 percent are Ukrainians and about 10 percent – Crimean Tatars. In addition, there are Bulgarians, Greeks and representatives of other ethnic groups living here.
Inter-ethnic accord in the Crimean Federal District is a very important internal policy matter for the Russian Federation in general. Therefore, yesterday we considered these matters, along with the development of such an important branch of the economy as tourism.
Today, on the 170th anniversary of the Russian Geographical Society we are holding events designed to revive an interest in national history. I consider this to be very important for the country.
Tomorrow we will deal with security matters. I believe this is timely and necessary. We are all doing our jobs: the Government is concerned with the economy, as I already said, on a daily and even hourly basis. We are not neglecting anything, so there is no need for concern.
Question: Mr President, going back to the expedition: 80 metres is a technical depth. Could you share your impressions of the depth? Would you ever venture to go that deep on your own, maybe scuba diving?
Vladimir Putin: This is something that should be left to the experts; submerging to such depths is not easy. When you are surfacing, you have to stop at certain points, as far as I remember, the ascent from such a depth should take about 50 minutes or so. This could probably be done, but let us leave that to the experts.
Question: What is your general impression of this depth?
Vladimir Putin: It is interesting. This is a very interesting device, a bathyscaphe.
Question: Were you afraid?
Vladimir Putin: No, I was not. At Lake Baikal, we went down to almost 2,000 metres, over 1,900, using Russian-made MIR devices. This is a different piece of equipment; it is not designed for such depths – only about 300 metres. 83 metres is also quite deep and very interesting, of course.
Question: Mr President, another question, if I may. The Russian Geographical Society has been operating here in Crimea for over a century and a half and they have had many expeditions. Are you planning to go anywhere else here in Crimea? As Chairman of the RGS Board of Trustees, you should be aware of the problems RGS may be having here in Crimea – are there any, does the regional branch need any help?
Vladimir Putin: I believe we should always help regional branches, but today the RGS is doing fine here: they have already conducted 2,000 studies. Our sponsors make it possible for us to invest significant resources into these studies, and not only here in the Black Sea area, but practically all over the globe.
I would like to thank our enthusiasts, in this case these are business people who are investing their own funds not only into such research, but also into restoration.
At the entrance to the bay, you saw a newly reconstructed fortification that was founded by Suvorov back in 1778 and was completely run down in the recent period. Our sponsors invested 800 million rubles to restore it.
We have many plans; they are all open to the public. I am certain that getting to know them would be of use for individuals and for the entire country.
Question: Mr President, where do you like it better: on the ground or underwater?
Vladimir Putin: Home is best, of course. It is best to be on solid ground and among your own people.
Question: Can I ask a question about Ukraine?
Vladimir Putin: Go ahead.
Question: Do you think the Minsk plan has failed? How do you assess the probability of an escalation in the conflict, of large-scale fighting?
Vladimir Putin: Unfortunately, we are observing such an escalation now, and the blame lies not with the Donbass self-defence forces, but with the other side. It is the Donbass militants who suggested withdrawing all military equipment with a calibre of under 100 millimetres.
Unfortunately, the other side failed to do so. On the contrary, according to the data we have, they are concentrating their units there, including those enhanced with combat equipment. I hope it will not come to open, direct large-scale confrontation.
As for the Minsk-2 accords, I believe there is no alternative to a settlement and eventually peace will prevail. Our job is to minimise the losses that this would require.
Thank you very much.