President of Russia Vladimir Putin: Good afternoon, colleagues,
The election campaign is over now for executive and legislative elections in the country’s regions and in some municipalities.
Election campaigns always see an increase in political activity, debates and arguments, literal and figurative. But it all comes to an end eventually. I want to congratulate the winners, and I hope that everyone who took part will analyse how they conducted their campaigns, look at their results and see what needs to be done to win more confidence from the voters. In any case, starting today, everyone will get down to positive work together.
Positive work together does not mean unanimous views on every issue. It refers rather to a complex political process, but I hope that everyone who took part in the elections is focused on improving their voters’ lives and developing our economy and social sector. In this respect, we all share the same noble overall goal of continuing to build up our country’s stability and strengthen its economic and social capabilities.
The subject of our meeting today is ensuring stability in the North Caucasus. This is an extremely important region that historically has been crucial for the whole of Russia’s security. To a large extent it is here that we define and shape our positions regarding the entire southern region from the Black Sea area to the Caspian.
This is a region that possesses big demographic resources and unique natural and climatic conditions. It is at the crossroads of major international transport corridors. All of this creates a good foundation for development, attracting investment, and for business growth.
But we all know well what dramatic trials the Caucasus has gone through, and how many serious problems there are here, rooted in the distant and recent past. I read historical works sometimes, including diplomatic correspondence from the past, and the words of one of our diplomats, writing from Paris if I recall, stuck firm in my memory. This was back at the start of the 18th century, and he wrote, “We need to finally bring order to the Caucasus. This has such an impact on attitudes to Russia in general in Europe and around the world.” Such was the case then and such is still the case today. The situation continues. But we need to change it.
What has happened over the last decades? The unified state’s weakening and disintegration in the early 1990s had grave consequences for the Caucasus, leading ultimately to bloody conflict too. Real civil war flared up in a number of regions.
International terrorists took advantage of this situation and launched attacks against Russia and the Caucasus’ peoples. The illegal armed groups’ use of terror created flows of refugees and displaced persons. Economic and social infrastructure deteriorated and in a number of republics was destroyed altogether.
I remember very clearly the first time I visited Chechnya. We flew in by helicopter and met with local residents at a school. There was nothing left of the school, only the walls. When asked if any classes still took place they said, “Of course not”. There was nothing to sit on, no desks. Such was the state infrastructure had ended up in, in some regions. To be honest, the situation in the other republics was little better.
But through decisive action by the federal authorities and the support of the absolute majority of the North Caucasus’ people – and I especially stress that this was thanks to the support of the North Caucasus’ peoples – we countered this attack by international terrorists. Most of the illegal armed groups and their odious leaders were suppressed and the constitutional state agencies and law enforcement system were restored and began working once more. We also undertook serious development of the border protection infrastructure.
Most important of all, we began to rebuild normal life and revive the economic and social sectors in the North Caucasus. To achieve this we launched a series of special federal programmes. We rebuilt towns and villages.
There has been progress, but at the same time, the situation in the North Caucasus is still improving too slowly. The terrorist threat and security challenges have not been entirely eliminated. Economic and social development rates in the North Caucasus Federal District still lag considerably behind the national average. The region still has the country’s highest unemployment rates, unfortunately, especially youth unemployment, which we know creates fertile soil for all kinds of extremists.
Birth rates are high, but at the same time, there are far from enough housing, medical centres, kindergartens and schools. All of this negatively affects people’s social wellbeing and does not help to strengthen stability.
Efforts to resolve these problems are compounded by the shortage of qualified personnel and the high level of corruption. We talk about the big problem that corruption poses in general in our country, but the situation is especially dramatic in the Caucasus. More than 1,600 corruption-related crimes were brought to light in the [North Caucasus Federal] District over the first half of this year. This makes an average of nearly ten crimes every day.
Embezzlement of budget money is seriously damaging the economy. The security agencies alone detected embezzlement of around 6.5 billion rubles [around $200 million] in 2013. Sectors related to public procurement, credits and subsidies, construction, housing and utilities, and land relations are the most criminalised. Regional organisations often ignore federal laws, when placing goods and services contracts for example.
We also come up against destructive, anti-Russian activity by a number of foreign countries – it makes me very sad to have to say this – and the public and international organisations under their control, which continue to see the North Caucasus as a launching pad for destabilising Russia as a whole, inflicting economic damage upon us, undermining our influence and limiting our efforts on the international stage. Let me stress that we will take firm action to suppress such attempts and will always make an adequate response.
Overall, continuing to normalise the situation in the North Caucasus requires further large-scale measures. The Government has drafted the Main Areas of State Policy in the North Caucasus Federal District. We will examine these policy outlines today.
This is a programme document of a qualitatively new kind. It takes into account the current situation in the region and sets out a broad range of tasks and areas for work both in the immediate and long term.
There are several points I particularly want to emphasise.
First, one of our priorities without question is to achieve faster social and economic growth. It is obvious that a successful stabilisation process depends directly on employment levels and prosperity for the region’s people.
New businesses have been opening regularly in the region of late. A factory making gas-concrete units and a cement plant were opened in Daghestan this year, as was a brick plant in Kabardino-Balkaria. The Karabulak flour mill in Ingushetia has made its first production deliveries, and so have the meat processing and dairy plants in Nalchik. Financing for these new projects came from both budgetary and extra-budgetary sources.
These are good examples, but they are not enough and we clearly need many more. People in the North Caucasus Federal District need modern jobs, just like in other parts of the Russian Federation, new opportunities for housing and education, leisure and sport. There are absolutely not enough such opportunities as yet, not enough modern conditions for children’s education. In short, people need to have confidence and have prospects in life.
The second priority is to raise the level of security in the region.
We must mobilise all security and law enforcement agencies to ensure law and order and public security and improve the coordination, quality and effectiveness of their joint efforts. We need to find new methods for fighting terrorism, extremism and crime. These are all important conditions for stabilising the situation in the region and stimulating business and investment activity. Of course, suppressing and neutralising terrorist and criminal threats are particularly important in connection with the 2014 Sochi Olympics.
We need to raise public confidence in the authorities’ work. This can be done above all by intensifying the fight against corruption and abuse of office.
We need to set clear objectives for the law enforcement agencies in their practical work to combat corruption-related crimes and carry out large-scale anti-corruption campaigns among the public.
Pride, honour, and a sense of self respect are in the Caucasus peoples’ blood. We need to arouse in people a rejection of all kinds of bribery and embezzlement.
We need to make more effective resistance to foreign countries’ attempts to use the North Caucasus’ problems against Russia’s interests. We will continue to respond firmly and resolutely to human rights violations in the North Caucasus and will bring those responsible to justice.
But we cannot ignore either the accusations spread by some foreign media and reports of international organisations on supposed mass violations of people’s rights in the North Caucasus. Everyone should look to themselves first of all. They have plenty of their own violations…
It is unacceptable to publish biased and non-objective information on the North Caucasus, and all the more so to incite nationalist-separatist moods, which, unfortunately, we see is happening. The law enforcement agencies and our foreign policy organisations have a responsibility too for responding adequately to these cases. This task needs to be clearly formulated. Of course, active information work and effective cooperation with civil society are essential here.
Finally, we need to explain to people the sense and logic of everything we are doing in the North Caucasus. At the same time, we must remember that the problems the region faces are complex, multi-layered and in many cases in a neglected state, unfortunately. We need to be frank about this. We cannot resolve these problems overnight, but we absolutely must resolve them.
We need fresh approaches and carefully thought-out action plans here, solid resource backing and strict control over implementation and spending.
Colleagues, only this way can we achieve our strategic goal of making the North Caucasus a peaceful, stable and prosperous part of the Russian Federation.
Let’s begin work.