9 august 2008

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin chaired a meeting on the events in South Ossetia

Vladimir Putin

At a meeting on the events in South Ossetia

"I consider it necessary to stress that Russia has always respected Georgia very much, and has always counted Georgians as a fraternal people. I am certain that despite these tragic events, our relations will continue unchanged in future".

Vladimir Putin's address at the conference:

Good evening, colleagues.

Before we begin our work, I would like to say that Georgia's military action in South Ossetia is certainly a crime. First of all, it is a crime against their own people. It was a deadly blow to the territorial integrity of Georgia itself. It has done great damage to its national identity. It is hard to imagine how it would be possible to persuade South Ossetia to remain part of Georgia after everything that has happened and is still happening there.

The aggression resulted in numerous victims including among the civil population. It is a real humanitarian disaster, and it is a crime against Ossetian people.

But I consider it necessary to stress that Russia has always respected Georgia very much, and has always counted Georgians as a fraternal people. I am certain that despite these tragic events, our relations will continue unchanged in future, despite the criminal policy of today's leadership of this state.

Time will pass and Georgian people themselves will objectively estimate the actions by their authorities. I think both in Georgia and in Russia as well as all over the world it is clear now that the Georgian leadership's aim is to join NATO. It does not wish to become a part of the global security system and make its contribution to the strengthening of international peace. Its decision to enter NATO was dictated by very different motives: it is an attempt to involve other countries and peoples in its bloody adventures.

As for Russia, from the legal point of view our actions are perfectly legitimate. Moreover, they are absolutely necessary. They are in line with acting international agreements, including the agreement of 1999. Russia is performing its peacemaking duties and is obliged to take one side under its protection in case the agreement is violated. And we have done it in full accordance with the agreement, in this case in relation to South Ossetia.

As I have said, this concerns the legal aspect of the situation. But there is also a political side. Russia has played a positive stabilising role in this region for centuries. That was true in the past and it will continue to be so in future. There is no question about it.

So we are not going to impose anything on anyone. We have a clear perspective on the world we live in. Let us remember all the equitable and peaceful solutions of conflict situations in the past.

We urge the Georgian authorities to stop their aggression against South Ossetia immediately, to stop violating our agreements and to respect the vested rights and interests of other nations. One has to respect others if he wants to be respected himself.

Now about the situation here. I called it a humanitarian disaster and that is what it really is. Tens of people have been killed, and hundreds have been wounded as a result of Georgia's aggression against South Ossetia. There was firing from heavy weapons, including firing on civilian objects, such as schools and kindergartens. Great damage has been done to the city.

According to official data, between August 2 and 9, 34,000 people crossed the border of the Russian Federation and registered with the migration service. Some of those people have returned later. According to our estimates, 22,000 people remain on the Russian territory, and 13,600 of them are in the Southern Federal District.

A crisis centre for all the humanitarian problems has been formed in the last 24 hours. It will have a branch in Vladikavkaz. A hospital run by the Emergencies Ministry has been relocated to the region, and another hospital is ready to be transferred, as well as a sanitary-hygienic laboratory. Six metric tons of medicines have been sent to the region. And it is possible to deliver more if it becomes necessary. We certainly can do this.

I would like to say that all the regions in Russia's south take part in rendering help to South Ossetia. I would like to thank both the citizens of this country and regional leaders.

Yesterday I had a telephone conversation with the head of the Republic. The Government of the Republic has prepared information on the additional needs of the Republic related to receiving refugees. These claims have been worked out and on Monday we will make the relevant decisions and send 500 million roubles to North Ossetia.

I would like you to focus on the damage to the city. What is the state of the civilian population there now?

Vladimir Boldyrev, commander of the Ground Forces, General of the Army: At midnight on the August 7, the Georgian side brought down fire without any limits. During the night 10 villages near the border were completely destroyed, wiped off from the face of the earth. Those settlements were quite big. Nothing remains from them now.

Tskhinvali has also been destroyed. There is no water or electricity; all the hospitals have been destroyed. There is just nowhere to render medical assistance there. All the kindergartens have been destroyed, many children have been killed. All the schools have been destroyed. For example, 50 people are living now in a cellar on Oktyabrskaya Street. More than half of them are children, and there is no water at all, not a drop. And they have been there for more than 72 hours. They can't come out because there is dense fire. Our soldiers are trying to bring them out to a safe place now. And I can't say if there is a safe place anywhere. Fire goes on and people go on perishing.

Vladimir Putin: Mr Shoigu, what kinds of measures has your Ministry taken to help civilians?

Sergei Shoigu: Mr Putin, there are two basic stages and two basic directions in our work. The first one is helping the refugees both in North Ossetia and in the Southern Federal District. The settlements for 11,000 people have already been prepared. And 12,000 more are settled with their relatives. There is a place for 800 people and a camp for 2,000 people with the whole system of life support established directly in the Republic.

The second direction is providing assistance to the wounded. I have received a report that the first hospital has begun to work and the first patients have started arriving. The second hospital will be established there by the end of the day. Six metric tons of medicines have been delivered. Fifteen metric tons more will be delivered by the end of the day. These medicines are intended for the next stage. It is to be held in Tskhinvali as soon as possible. It involves the organisation of a basic system of life support. It is necessary to supply water, considering that all the water intakes have been destroyed. We have brought water processing units there. There is no electricity there. There are already 10 generators. We are going to bring about 15 generators more in the next 24 hours.

And the third direction: We intend to bring the second hospital to Tskhinvali together with the commander. The situation is complicated because we can't begin to deliver humanitarian aid, the food and medicines. I hope we will get a chance in the next 24 hours. I hope they will listen to the common sense and to your words and stop bombing humanitarian convoys. And we will be able to deliver assistance directly to the people in Tskhinvali.

Vladimir Putin: What measures has the Ministry of Health taken?

Maxim Topilin, Deputy Minister for Health and Social Development: Mr Putin, as Mr Shoigu has said, 6 metric tons of medicines have already been delivered to the hospital, including wound dressings and blood. This hospital has already been delivered and there are two medical teams who will provide assistance.

Fifteen metric tons of medicines are ready to be delivered by the Federal Medical-Biological Agency. Twenty three specialists have arrived today, two teams of doctors. One of them will provide assistance to children, the other to adults.

Now we are working on the problem of resetting those who are here as well as the people who arrived yesterday. We are checking the information. At this moment 1,098 people are settled in the different centres of North Ossetia, but the data are permanently changing. Moreover, as you have said, a number of regions are willing to receive some of the refugees. This is already being done in the Rostov Region and about 200 people have been brought there. Kabardino-Balkaria received 106 people. According to preliminary figures, about 5,800 places can be prepared to accommodate refugees from South Ossetia. It is necessary to specify the contingent: children, women and so on. This work will continue.

Together with the Ministry of Emergencies we are going to coordinate our work on the tent camps to be set by the Ministry of Emergencies.

Other questions are being trashed out. The problem that may arise now in North Ossetia is that most of the people I've told you about, 1,098 people, are settled at schools and other educational institutions. September 1 is near, so it is necessary to find another accommodation for these people. For children it is necessary to address the problem of their schooling with the Ministry of Education. After the Federal Migration Service provides us with personal data of children, we have to solve these problems in August, all to be done by September 1.

I have spoken on the telephone with Tatyana Golikova. At present a project is being prepared on additional measure for the support of citizens. It is to be conducted in parallel with strict accounting to be hold by the Federal Migration Service.

Vladimir Putin: Very good. As we have heard, there is great damage to Tskhinval and other towns. We understand the state these people found themselves in: they have lost all their possessions and their homes. We will not abandon these people in their need.

The Government of the Russian Federation is working on a special programme of delivering assistance and reconstructing housing.

During the first stage we will allocate approximately 19 billion roubles, which is equivalent to about $500,000. I repeat, we will proceed from real needs.