Question: The European Union will undergo another enlargement next year. What impact do you think past and future EU enlargements have had and will have on relations between the EU and Russia? What is your vision of the problems in interaction between the EU and Russia, and what do you expect from the upcoming summit?
Answer: European Union enlargement inevitably has an impact on our relations. The main thing is to avoid problems and find constructive solutions to any problems that do arise. This is the approach to which we are committed.
Regarding Bulgaria and Romania, we hope that their entry into the EU will not damage the ties that we have built up over many years with these countries, both of which are among our traditional economic partners.
As for the results of the enlargement in 2004, which saw the EU take in 10 new member states, I remind you that at that time the Joint Declaration on EU Enlargement and Russia-EU Relations was drafted and adopted. In particular, it set out each side’s commitments in a number of areas such as trade and economic cooperation, transit to and from Kaliningrad Region and the rights of ethnic minorities.
Most of the economic issues have already been settled. Over these last two-and-a-half years we have put in place passenger and freight transit schemes for Kaliningrad Region that have made it possible to organise the transport flows to and from this region in general. There are just a few details that remain to be fine-tuned. We hope that the upcoming entry of Poland and Lithuania into the Schengen zone will not restrict freedom of movement for the people of Kaliningrad Region and that the current transit scheme will continue to operate effectively.
I must note, however, that Russia is seriously concerned about the lack of real progress in the situation for the Russian-speaking population in Latvia and Estonia. These countries are now EU member states and this makes the problem of the ‘non-citizens’ in these countries an issue for the entire European Union. This is an issue of the rights and freedoms of a considerable number of people living on EU territory. We plan to raise the question of fulfilling the relevant commitments of the Joint Declaration at the upcoming summit in Helsinki.
I want to stress what I think is an important point, and that is that relations between Russia and the EU are not just about certain economic sectors or about certain political issues such the ‘frozen’ conflicts in the post-Soviet area. Our cooperation is far broader and concerns almost every area of our peoples’ lives. We need to focus on new positive goals and constantly open up new avenues of cooperation for all Europeans, create new opportunities for their joint business and humanitarian initiatives and projects.
We have agreed to begin talks on drafting a new document to replace the 1997 Russia-EU Partnership and Cooperation Agreement that is in many ways outdated now. The European Commission has requested a mandate to hold talks with Russia on the content and scope of the future agreement, and we expect the Commission to receive this mandate very soon.
It is my conviction that we need to talk about creating the legal foundation for long-term strategic partnership and cooperation. At the upcoming summit in Helsinki we will discuss a range of issues related to creating precisely this kind of legal foundation for our relations. Overall, we are committed to a businesslike and constructive dialogue on all areas of relations between Russia and the EU.
Question: Immigration has become a pressing issue not just for Western countries over recent years, but for Russia too. How open will the Russian labour market be to foreign workers, and what is the impact of the brain drain from Russia to other countries?
Answer: I agree with you that developing an effective immigration policy is equally important today for Russia and for the other countries of Europe, and I note the common approach that our countries share to resolving the problems that arise in this area.
Our goal is to radically improve our legislation in this area in order to bring immigration into the open and make it legal. We are focusing particularly on integrating foreign workers into Russian society based on the principles of respect for the laws and respect for our cultural, historical and religious traditions and customs.
Various estimates put the number of foreign workers in Russia at between 10 million and 15 million people, but only 500,000 of them are working legally. This is the root cause of many problems, including poor working conditions and low pay for immigrants working illegally, violations of their rights, and criminalisation of unlawful employment.
A number of legislative initiatives have already been passed which, on the one hand, make it easier for foreign workers to register, and on the other hand, toughen the penalties for breaking the immigration rules and unlawfully using foreign labour. We also intend to encourage immigration to the parts of the country and the economic sectors that are important for Russia’s development and that face labour shortages.
As for the problem of the brain drain from Russia, this is something affecting many European countries. This is the reality of today’s global economy and global scientific community. With regard to Russia in particular, the brain drain was also provoked by the economic instability of the 1990s.
In an open and democratic society, factors such as high living standards, stability, security, and opportunities for professional and creative self-realisation all have an impact on the choice of where to work. In this respect, the situation in Russia has undergone great change.
Russia’s fast-growing economy, its high-technology sectors and companies are all becoming more attractive in terms of the opportunities they offer for good high-paid work. We have been working hard to ensure decent conditions for research activity in Russia. Wages in the academy have risen and we are focusing especially on raising the wages of young scientists. We are implementing programmes to create technology incubation zones, technology parks and develop an innovative environment. I note that many professionals and academics who left the country are now considering returning to Russia. I am certain that as the country continues to grow and become stronger, there will be more and more reason for them to decide to come back home.
Question: The second World Congress of Russians Abroad was held in St Petersburg in October this year. What are the priorities for the government programme for work with Russians abroad? What influence do you think Russian-language publications abroad can have on forming the image of Russia abroad and helping to unite the Russian diaspora?
Answer: I would first like to say a few words about the scale of the issue. The Russian diaspora comes to around 30 million people, with 10 million of them living in Europe alone. This is one of the biggest diasporas in the world. There are countries where Russians account for more than 20 percent of the population.
It is only natural that we feel concern for the fate of people with whom we are bound by uninterrupted cultural, historical and spiritual ties.
What is important to us is that our compatriots abroad have the possibility of preserving their ethnic and cultural identity, be able to protect their lawful rights and interests and, if they wish, return to their homeland.
The main elements of our support for Russians living abroad are legal protection, organisation of holidays for children, medical assistance for veterans, supplying teaching materials, providing support to Russian-language theatres and training for teachers.
We have a federal programme, Russian Language, aimed at strengthening the position of the Russian language abroad. As for those of our compatriots who wish to resettle in Russia, the state helps them to move here and settle in, including by helping them to go through the necessary legal formalities, obtain employment, and receive pension and education entitlements.
Twelve Russian regions are looking to take in compatriots abroad wishing to resettle in Russia, and they have already presented their proposals on employment and social support to the government. The first stage of implementing the programme to assist voluntary resettlement will begin in 2007. A total of 4.6 billion roubles has already been allocated in the federal budget for this purpose.
The main objective of another document, the 2006–2008 Programme for Work with Russians Abroad, is to help consolidate the different organisations set up by Russians abroad so that they will be better able to defend their lawful rights and interests, including their ethnic and cultural, economic and political interests. I think that the organisation of global and regional conferences and the creation of a special print publication and corresponding Internet portal for Russians abroad will help to unite the diaspora. What is particularly important is that we are also supporting regional and country-based publications for the Russian communities abroad.
In Europe alone there is already a whole range of media aimed at a Russian-speaking audience. We can now speak of the formation of a Russian-language media space in Europe. These are newspapers and magazines living according to the laws of the European information market, and therefore a part of the European continent’s common information space. We must not forget Russian television, too, which offers European viewers the international versions of its programmes: Channel One, Rossia, NTV, and Russia Today.
Many Europeans, especially young people, study Russian and read the Russian-language press. The diverse and accurate information about the country and the not always straightforward processes underway here that they receive helps to create an image of the real Russia and break down old stereotypes. As I said in my address to the World Congress of Russians Abroad in St Petersburg, maintaining the Russian-language space is one of the priorities for our work with our compatriots abroad, with those for whom Russia has always been and will always remain a centre of attraction for their diverse interests. Europe’s Russian-language press can make a useful contribution to uniting this ‘Russian world’ – a world of science and learning, a world rich in history and traditions.
Question: There are those who say that Russia is taking a new road to development, a road that differs from that of either the West or the Asian countries. Do you agree with the assertion that Russia is following its own road, and what is your vision of this road?
Answer: Let me begin by saying that in today’s interdependent world, it is really only by convention that we still speak of a ‘Western’ or ‘Asian’ development path.
Russia is building its statehood on the foundation of democratic values and freedoms and is working consistently to strengthen the institutions of its civil society. The goals of our policies are to make market relations more efficient, to develop opportunities for our citizens to realise their business and creative initiatives, and to provide better social guarantees for our people. We are perfectly happy to draw on the positive experience of our partners in Europe and in other parts of the world. At the same time, we strive to make the fullest use of our own truly inexhaustible potential, our unique culture and the traditions and historical experience of our peoples.
Russia, like any other country, is unique. Only we can travel our road, and it is up to us to make it a success.