23 january 2012

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin takes part in the Forum of Ethnic Groups of Southern Russia during a visit to the Stavropol Territory

Vladimir Putin

At takes part in the Forum of Ethnic Groups of Southern Russia

“When we are together, when we feel that we are a united nation, Russia has always managed to overcome any difficulties and times of trouble, to defeat its enemies and to uphold its freedom and independence.”


Vladimir Putin: One of the participants here has a birthday today. I'd like to congratulate her on your behalf and wish her all the best.

Good afternoon,

First of all, I'd like to thank you for this opportunity to address you, a distinguished, diverse and very interesting audience. You represent various public organisations that form what is known as civil society. You are familiar with the attitudes of the people, what worries them and what determines their social well-being. I look forward to an interesting and lively discussion today.

Since time immemorial, bold, courageous and confident peoples have inhabited the southern regions of this country. Each has its own language and culture, unique and interesting traditions and customs, but one big, common homeland: Russia. We also share a centuries-old great, albeit contradictory, common history. Its lessons emphasise the mortal danger of any ethnic or civil conflicts; they reveal what deep wounds are inflicted by injustice and mutual enmity. At one time people in the South of Russia drained the cup of horror, as they say, to its dregs, having experienced a civil war, deportation and terrorism. Whenever we have been set against each other, whenever the seeds of discord have been sown, Russia has become helpless, dependent and vulnerable.

Preserving the memory of the past and its lessons, we must restore the truth. We must know the truth and protect the unity of ethnic groups inhabiting Russia, and hence the unity of national self-consciousness as the foundation of the life of our people and the development of our state. When we are together, when we feel that we are a united nation, Russia has always managed to overcome any difficulties and times of trouble, to defeat its enemies and to uphold its freedom and independence.

This was the case in the 17th century – not here or in the Caucasus, but in the Volga area. In 1612, people of diverse ethnic origins and religious beliefs came together in defence of their common state. The same was true in 1812 and 1941-1945. Sons and daughters of all Soviet peoples fought and died at the fronts of the Great Patriotic War.

The legendary defence of the Brest Fortress is one of the most impressive examples of staunch spirit and self-sacrifice. Its immortal garrison consisted of people of the most diverse ethnic origins, including those born here in the South of Russia – in Chechnya, Ingushetia and other regions.

We will always remember those who defended peace in the North Caucasus and who fought for the integrity of our state quite recently, in the 1990s. Terrorists received a crushing rebuff. Everything went awry: handouts from abroad, instructions, ideological campaigns, brainwashing... All of these measures were reduced to naught by the heroism, courage and wisdom of the peoples of Russia.

It is impossible to bring to their knees those who do not want to be slaves. We and the peoples in the South of Russia did not wish to live in an atmosphere of fear and violence, in poverty and isolation.

I remember the role that the people of Dagestan played in these years in the districts of Tsumadin and Botlikha, and how they repelled the attacks of international terrorism and Wahhabism. People came out in defence of their own homes and their common homeland, Russia, without any encouragement from the outside or any instructions from the federal centre. They did not even have proper weapons.

There were Russian army servicemen, civilians, militiamen, Cossacks, and religious and public figures among those who died in the fight against terrorism. They were people of the most diverse ethnic origins and religious beliefs. I will tell you quite frankly that any attempt to fan up ethnic or religious strife is a betrayal of their memory on the part of those who still dare exploit the ethnic issue and incite separatist or nationalistic sentiments.

The aims of these figures of different hues are clear. They have nothing in common with a real solution to ethnic problems, Russia's advancement or the interests of our people.

Dear friends, we must discuss the issues that truly concern our society, and the topic of ethnic relations is one of the most sensitive, urgent and important. There are many problems here, and they don't come from nowhere. Quite often, or rather primarily, ethnic tensions are rooted in an unequal economic development of different Russian territories, large-scale migration, often incompetence of local authorities and law-enforcement bodies and their inability to maintain order, in corruption, poverty, a lack of social prospects, a feeling of injustice, and a lack of protection.

Ethnic conflicts flare up with particular force in places where proper management and law are all but unknown, where officials and law-enforcement bodies ignore the law, often creating preferences for individuals or communities for remuneration, or who simply avoid addressing urgent issues, releasing offenders who have committed serious crimes or covering up arrogant behaviour and violations of public order.

It is only natural that instances of this behaviour cause wide-scale irritation and indignation, and discredit all authorities. People feel it is impossible to attain truth and justice, and they simply do not believe that anyone can protect them.

Finally, there is corruption, a clan system and a merger of bureaucrats and law-enforcement officials with criminals. This is a problem not only in the South of Russia or the North Caucasus, but in a considerable part of other Russian territories. It is humiliating for this country and for the dignity of our people.

We must eradicate the fundamental causes behind corruption, and we must make sure that every act of corruption is punished. For our part, we will continue to improve the performance of law-enforcement bodies, courts of law, and authorities at all levels. Public and other human rights organisations and the media must react to any instance of corruption or any attempt to abuse one's position or turn a profit at the expense of the people. Your voice and the position of civil society are a crucial component in our common fight against corruption.

Esteemed colleagues,

No one who lives in this country should forget his faith, his ethnic identity. But first and foremost he must be a citizen of this great country, Russia. Unity from diversity is the foundation of strength and success, the power of our state, its authority in the international arena. Our, I stress, our great poet Rasul Gamzatov [a Dagestani poet] said: “I have always believed that one land has raised us, that all of us will feel right only when we are together.” Great words from a great poet.

Thank you for your attention.

Let’s get to work. I see that today we will have an open conversation about the proposed subject. However, we can discuss any problem of interest or concern in the south of the country.

We have agreed that first the colleagues that are present here will have the floor, and immediately after that we will start our live discussions.

* * *

Vladimir Putin’s comments on speeches of forum participants and his answers to questions:

On ethnic relations

With regard to the ethnic relations that you spoke about, this was indeed the case. At those [Soviet] times, we hadn't noticed anything like that. I think the majority of those present here will agree with me. To tell you the truth, I do not remember any ethnic conflict during that period. Nothing of the kind had happened.

I was born and grew up in Leningrad, as you know. To be honest, we didn't even know each other's ethnic origins, although I grew up and was educated in a multiethnic environment. We were completely indifferent to this. Perhaps because Leningrad or St Petersburg was a large port and everything mixed together there. But the whole country was more or less the same way. That's the way I see it.

All ethnic and faith problems cropped up later, in the 1990s. It began following the disintegration of the [Soviet] Union. But our current meeting is not aimed at analysing the origins of this aggravation. But the fact of the matter is obvious. Meanwhile I do not believe that this ethnic and interfaith harmony was based entirely on a repressive policy of the state. Although the authorities introduced ideology into their work, they still cultivated certain moral values.

… I mentioned in my article (“Russia: The Ethnicity Issue” published in Nezavisimaya Gazeta), and I always maintain in public addresses, that we should see the problems in ourselves, too. We must take a good hard look. You mentioned education and culture. This is what I think we should draw our attention to today. I'll say it again: in Soviet times there was an excessive amount of ideology wrapped up in this work, and yet it was carried out in educational institutions, in families, in cultural institutions. Many (efforts) were focused on maintaining ethnic balance and interfaith peace. A great deal of effort was poured into this goal. And currently, unfortunately, I am compelled to turn this criticism against myself, too; unfortunately state bodies, including the federal state bodies, are doing little, and regional bodies do almost nothing, and what they do, they do only formally.

This work demands precise tools, perhaps even a higher quality of precision than the tools that surgeons use. This is the beginning of our discussion.  

On the Russian language and cultural heritage of the peoples of Russia

I want to thank you and our colleagues from non-governmental organisations of republics who support the idea of developing the Russian language, Russian literature, and Russian culture as the mortar that holds together the nucleus of civilisation. This is what I would like to point out, in addition to the fact that we are currently located in the Stavropol Territory. I travel a great deal around the country, but I rarely meet with intellectuals in various republics which is regrettable. We see fewer and fewer literary publications in the languages of small ethnic groups of Russia. This cultural diversity that we often mention and that we take pride in could be lost unless we recover this system of support for cultures and languages of the peoples of the Russian Federation. Quite simply, it is necessary to extend funds. This was done in Soviet times – books were regularly published, there was a great deal of prestige involved, these works were translated into Russian. And at that time there existed a link between languages and cultures, between literatures of the peoples of Russia and the Russian language. It will be more powerful, because the audience will number in the millions. We should draw our attention to this as well.

…Dostoyevsky wrote about the liberals who feel flawed. It is flawed people who are ashamed of being Russian or Dagestani or Karachai – these are people who are ashamed of themselves.

Remark: But they are very aggressive.

Vladimir Putin: They are aggressive precisely because they are flawed.

Islamic values and guidelines

Let’s talk about those young women who walk around all covered up. I have just remembered that it was my idea for Russia to become an associate member of Islamic Conference. It was my initiative. I discussed it with colleagues, who, surprisingly, supported my idea actively. Nearly all member countries of that organisation, which is highly respected in the Muslim world, supported it. And today Russia has observer status at that organisation.

I remember the speech delivered by one of its leaders at the summit which I attended. I think it was Mahathir Mohamad, the prime minister of Malaysia. He faced an audience that was about 30 times larger than the one I am addressing now, an audience where all Muslim countries were represented, and asked them what they are doing to women. He asked them: Why do we suppress our women? Why do we force them to wear a hijab, or veil, and do not allow them to get an education? We are killing ourselves, Dr Mahathir Mohamad said. Things have come to such a pitch that we have to buy weapons from our enemies. I later told them, why buy from enemies when you can buy from us – we are your friends.

I heard what I am telling you here with my own ears. I later talked with Mahathir Mohamad and saw that he believes in what he says. Look at what is happening in our country – a renaissance of traditional faiths, all of which are based on the same moral and ethical values. But everyone, including spiritual leaders, sometimes loses their guidance, believing that they are the guiding star themselves. Meanwhile, a struggle is being waged for the development of Islam. Retreating further back would be simply preposterous when we have moved so far forward. We must strengthen these moral values, and we must not allow ourselves to be pushed back into the Middle Ages.

…Today Moscow cannot force any measures on anyone, but I would like those of you who can make a change to hear what I am saying. I cited the words of Dr Mahathir Mohamad for a reason, because these are the modern realities of the Muslim world and he knew what he was talking about.

Military and civilian pensions and providing housing to veterans

As for providing housing to veterans, we fulfilled all our commitments at the first stage of the project. We later promised to provide housing also to those who applied for new housing before March 1, 2005, which turned out to be a very long list. We did not expect it to be so long. Nevertheless, we will complete this programme. That was the first thing I wanted to say.

Now for pensions: We have increased military pensions 60%-100%. Here is the reason why I am using this opportunity to address this issue. When we valorised civilian pensions the year before last, that is, recalculated payments for those who earned their pensions during the Soviet period, we increased pensions 42%-45%. As a result, some civilian pensions became larger than military pensions, which encouraged military staff to retire and seek civilian employment. That was the first reason.

Second, when we decided to raise payments for military personnel, which have since been increased 100%-200%, we should have also raised military pensions. But we could not do that because of the gap between military and civilian pensions.

I would like to address civilian pensioners now: I know that some say there is now a major divide between civilian and military pensions – I have received letters saying so. Yes, our military pensioners now receive a larger pension, but it is not dramatically bigger than civilian pensions.

I’d like to say here that we will gradually increase civilian pensions, to find the necessary balance. This year we plan to adjust salaries to inflation, although the increase will not be large, but we see the gap and will try to adjust civilian pensions to military pensions, ultimately also trying to find a balance between civilian and military pensions.

In other words, at some stage in implementing our programmes we will increase civilian pensions as a priority. I want you to understand that this will not happen immediately, because we cannot increase both military and civilian pensions as a priority, considering that we raised civilian pensions more than 40% the year before last. Doing this would be detrimental for the budget. But we will index civilian pensions and there will come a day when we will start adjusting them to military pensions at a high pace. This is so that you know.

The consequences of hostilities in Chechnya

…Much has been said here about whether we need the Caucasus or not. I have recently spoken with one of our businessmen, a successful businessman but not a billionaire. He said his company used to work in Iraq but had to close its operations there. I asked him why, and he replied: The purchasing capacity in Iraq has plummeted to zero, even though it is an oil-producing and rich country. Still, that is not the main problem. Why then? I asked him. He replied: It is impossible to communicate with people, they are like zombies. This is a tragedy, really. I hope that everything will get back to normal eventually, but the current situation following the dramatic events of the past years is very difficult.

Why am I telling you all this? I am telling you this because we know what happened in Chechnya in the past years, and how difficult it was for everyone across Russia, including the Chechen people. I spoke about this before, but I first went to Chechnya when hostilities were still going on there. I went into a school and it turned out that children had not attended school for several years. There were no desks or chairs in the classrooms. Do you see what I am driving at? If we allow ourselves to be drawn into such processes, the same will happen all over the Caucasus. We must prevent this. These negative effects may apply both to the Caucasus and to Russia.

The breakdown of the USSR and attempts to split off the North Caucasus from Russia

What happened when the Soviet Union fell apart? Twenty-five million Russians found themselves outside the boundaries of their homeland. The Soviet Union was essentially just a big Russia and nothing else. And they found themselves outside it. Twenty-five million. Where could they go? We know, it must be admitted, that grassroots nationalism began to grow. People would have gladly left but they had nowhere to go. Russia could not accept them all. It was impossible to provide flats for everybody, it was impossible to provide everyone with jobs. Even if we had wanted to, it would have been impossible to do on such a scale.

What am I driving at? God forbid if Russia becomes destabilised – things would be worse for everybody. Both ethnic minorities and the Russian people would suffer and it is no coincidence … Look, for centuries all our – I will be tolerant and will not call them enemies – all our political opponents and rivals have been constantly trying to split off the North Caucasus from Russia, century after century. This is no accident, it is indicative of the geopolitical importance of this region in the world. At a recent meeting with football fans in St Petersburg, I also said and I want to reiterate this point: as soon as … If some people (I hope this will never happen) begin to strip Russia of some of its ethnic composition, Russia will immediately shrivel up and turn irrevocably into a third-rate regional power. Russia, the Russians and the other peoples of Russia, but above all the Russians, attract other peoples of today’s Russian Federation like a magnet. Together, they are an immense, powerful and great power. The country would simply cease to exist and the first people to suffer would be the Russians. Other peoples too will experience something like what this businessman described to me citing Iraq. We must not, we have no right to allow this under any circumstances, and we will not.

The Novocherkassk school and the proposal to establish an interethnic training centre for patriots of Russia there

I have been to this educational establishment, I have looked around it and was delighted at the way everything is arranged, in a kindly, paternal and at the same time in a public-spirited manner, strictly, where it needs to be, and without any undue emphasis, of course. It is clear that the staff like working with the children. Well done! They work so beautifully that no one minds the money spent. Let us look at the Novocherkassk training school and look over your idea. I congratulate you on bringing this project to completion.

The elections in Karachayevo-Circassia in 1999

I remember the situation which took shape in Karachayevo-Circassia in 1999. Our country is a complex organism. This is because of its ethnic-territorial division. The situation is compounded by the fact that certain ethnic republics have several titular ethnic groups living within them. That of course aggravates the situation: that's how it is. The same practice is observed in some other countries. In Lebanon, for example, when it holds elections, I am saying it straight as I see it, these elections are held to choose candidates not for their personal or business qualities but for their ethnicity. True, when one or other ethnic group nominates its candidate, it will, of course, look at his or her personal and business credentials … But if you recall now the 1999 crisis in Karachayevo-Circassia, the republic has one president but several titular groups: the Karachai, Circassians and Russians live there. True, the Russians were very calm, they sort of distanced themselves from the conflict, but I remember well how desperate things looked. When I invited leaders from one and the other side – they will not let me lie – I told them: I will not let you out of my office until you agree. You will sit here until you agree.

The Federation's regional heads

There is one more consideration, an important one, in this context: the federal centre in such a situation and in a country like Russia, if it has authority, always fulfils the very important role of balancing interests in interregional, interethnic and interfaith relations … On the other hand, today we have to put together a system of bringing to power regional heads of the Russian Federation in such a way that they feel greater responsibility towards the population and that ordinary people understand that it was not the centre that foisted some sort of leader upon them, but that they themselves elected him or her, they themselves decided that he or she was the person to be head of their republic.

Several years ago, when there was the need for this, when we were in effect in the midst of a civil war in the Caucasus … We talk about the fight against terrorism, because it all degenerated into a civil war in essence, and then this was certainly called for. Today this mechanism needs fine tuning. How? Let's put our heads together: this is a law, the future law of joint action, of joint responsibility between the federal centre and the regions. And this draft law will be distributed to all the regions of the Russian Federation. The legislatures, the members and leaders of religious faiths, generally just thinking people should all take a very serious look at this draft bill. It is one of the most important moments in the construction of our political system. No doubt, there will remain what is known as negative control, where the Russian president retains the right to recall a person who has failed to cope with his or her duties, for one reason or another. But, if you remember, I spoke about a kind of presidential filter, and the draft law mentions consultations with the president … No final decision has been made yet. Let us all think it over.

Party development

One more consideration. This is not about how regional heads of the Russian Federation come to power, but about party development. On the whole, I have always sought to ensure we have large national parties in Russia. Of course, we have to allow people who cannot draw large numbers of supporters to their side to state their position in a straightforward manner, and not only by running around the streets and scaring people, but legally, in public venues and through public forums. This has to be done. I'm sure the audience here understands what I'm saying. But we have to be very careful. Why? Because doing things on too small a scale is bad, too, we should not be establishing regional, some kind of republican or, God forbid, ethnic parties. We need multiethnic, national political structures, which could of course think about the development of a particular region, but would above all be concerned with national issues, with raising these national issues and proposing ways of resolving them. If we, God forbid, move towards establishing some kind of republican or territorial parties, that would be a very dangerous path, one that could destabilise the country.

On crime

Sergei Stepanov (head of the regional headquarters of the Young Guard of United Russia national public organisation): Good afternoon, Mr Putin. My name is Sergei Stepanov (hero city Volgograd). I am a young father, I am 27 years old. I cannot of course help worrying about the safety of my children and my family. I know a good deal is now being done to fight organised crime but it's probably not enough. Take, for example, the tragedy that happened in the village of Kushchyovskaya in the Krasnodar Territory. I am also worried about the so-called ethnic criminal gangs which, or whose activities, are a direct threat to interethnic peace and accord, and to the unity of Russia. These values – you talk a lot about them and today we are discussing them again … In this context my question: what does the state have to do to prevent new Kushchyovskayas from happening? To have a single law for all citizens of our country regardless of their nationality, faith, age, gender and so on?

Vladimir Putin: Kushchyovskaya, as far as I understand, is not directly linked to ethnic criminal gangs.

Sergei Stepanov: It's not. This is organised crime.

Vladimir Putin: Yes, but when you combined the two, you get an explosive cocktail, you see? As regards ethnic criminal gangs, they have always existed. Not only in Russia, they were in the Soviet Union as well. Our first speaker, the doctor, spoke about thieves in law. Most of them are from where?

Sergei Stepanov: From Georgia.

Vladimir Putin: Right, from Georgia. Saakashvili has nothing to do with that, he is a different character. But long-established criminal groups have always existed. Now the situation is being aggravated by increased migration. I have just mentioned this in passing in my speech. What is the source of this migration? It is the uneven economic development of the Russian regions. Take your seat, please. You are a young father, and may get tired. You must preserve your strength for your next baby. 

Russia’s socio-economic results

Look what we have here. The country is generally back to its pre-crisis unemployment level. In fact I said at a recent Government Presidium meeting: last year, Russia showed some of the best economic results in the world. The best in the world! We are in the third place in terms of GDP increment, and in the fourth place (after Germany) in terms of industrial production development. We have seen the lowest inflation in 20 years at slightly over 6%. The lowest in twenty years! And the lowest sovereign debt too. While the United States’ debt is 100%, many European countries have 85%-86% on average, Italy 124%, Japan 224%, and Russia only 10.4%. Our foreign debt is 2.5% (2.4%), while the Central Bank’s reserves amount to over 500 billion (the third largest in the world). The Russian government also has two reserve funds, of 2.7 and 1.7 trillion roubles. What I am saying is that financially Russia is quite sustainable.

But there are some problems too. The economy is not diversified, and people’s real income grew by only a small margin last year. Salaries increased by a little over 3% (3.7% if I am not mistaken). But real income grew by a mere 0.4%-0.5% minus inflation. Why did this happen? Because in 2010, we raised retirement pensions significantly, and in 2011, we only indexed them to cover inflation. Salaries grew tangibly, but averaged with pensions and social benefits, real income showed only a small growth. There was also a large oil and gas deficit (11%), but it’s decreasing.

Overall, last year’s results are very good. I can say, without exaggeration, that these figures are not only from the Russian Economic Development Ministry: they are confirmed by the European Commission and the IMF. Russia’s results are among the best in the world.

I have mentioned unemployment. In some of the European countries… Just imagine, in Greece, unemployment reached 17% and in Spain, nearly 23%. Compare 6.1% in Russia with 23%. On the other hand, in Ingushetia, unemployment stood at 49% last year, and in Chechnya, at over 37%. This is a problem, given that certain demographic numbers are better there than in any other region of the Russian Federation. I believe families there average about five people, for example.

Remark: Some have eight.

Vladimir Putin: He says eight, because his must be a family of eight. Do you see my point? Incidentally, Russia also had the lowest infant mortality rate in 19 years in 2011.

Demographic improvement

The population started growing in Russia; including immigration – it went up to 143.03 million. If we look at, say, the North Caucasus, we’ll see a significant increase and high unemployment as well. That is why young people – what else can they do? – try to seek their fortune in other Russian regions. They are not always properly educated or culturally sophisticated. This is true, I am just telling the truth as it is and not trying to attack anyone or hurt their feelings: instead of dancing the Lezginka at a local club, they dance in city squares, and very aggressively, deliberately for everyone to see and to annoy everyone, and people naturally get irritated. You see, there are many subtle irritants like this.


First of all, we must develop industrial production everywhere across Russia to give all people an opportunity to find an outlet for their energy in their home region, to be able to attain their potential in any region including the North Caucasus. Second, Russian law enforcement authorities should become more effective and competent; they shouldn’t turn a blind eye to any violation of the law or let themselves become corrupt, so that local people can feel secure. If this becomes reality, the situation will improve, there will be no problems. What triggered the massive unrest that followed the death of a football fan in Moscow? What caused so much public outrage? Injustice. The perpetrators got released. This is where the problem is.


Finally, I would cite one more factor. We have discussed internal migration, but there is also immigration. What we need here – I mentioned this in my article – is to improve the quality of immigration. I mean that we need more educated immigrants, who can speak Russian and know Russian history, so it would be easier for them to adapt to its current reality. Therefore, I propose introducing compulsory training and an exam, at least in the Russian language. We need a series of measures here; we are quite capable of implementing them, and we will do so.

The Kushchevskaya massacre

You know, I agree that it would be wrong to paint Kuban entirely black, but we cannot ignore it either. The issue should be openly discussed. Indeed, as you said, the criminals were caught and exposed immediately after all the publicity given to the case. But this is not enough. What is important is why their crimes were ignored over so long a period. This is what causes public outrage. People feel unprotected. Now suppose the perpetrators were from some specific ethnic group. Can you imagine what would happen? It would have been so much worse, so terrible. Therefore, the most important thing is that the law applies to everyone without exception. We have a lot to do to ensure an effective law-enforcement system.

Mono-ethnic communities

As for so called mono-ethnic communities: it is only natural when people arriving in a different region, let alone a new country, prefer joining their own kind because it is easier and more comfortable to be around them. Normally, there is no problem with that. On the other hand, if these groups turn into closed ethnic communities, this becomes a problem, both for the local population and for the ethnic people living in those communities. You know that New York and other US and European cities have these communities: China Towns and others. Historically, Russia has had this tradition too: there was the Foreign Quarter in old Moscow, as well as the Jewish, Tatar, Greek, and Georgian Quarters. However, in the modern world – I know this firsthand from speaking with friends – when people find themselves in a closed ethnic community, they want to get out because it limits their options and hinders development, prevents them from getting a good education and finding a good job. When they are interviewed for a job, they are often asked: “Where are you from? From there? Thank you, please come back tomorrow.” “May I?” “Yes you may.” “But can I?” “No you can’t.” Do you see my point? They have the right, theoretically. But they don’t get the job. This limits their options. Therefore, it may be best not to create ethnic communities in the first place. They don’t lead to positive possibilities. Any person must be free and an equal among equals. This is essential for attaining their best potential, for getting a degree, a good job and other benefits. This is the vision we must try to attain.

Education and traditions of North Caucasus

It was my idea to divide the country into federal districts, and I implemented this idea. At the beginning, we had no North Caucasus Federal District. Later, about two years ago, the decision was made to establish the North Caucasus Federal District on the basis of the Southern Federal District. I think that the authors of this idea and Dmitry Medvedev had proceeded from the premise that we must devote more attention to the North Caucasus and prioritise the administrative and financial aspects of this region, so that all of Russia benefits from this, so that people do not leave [the Caucasus] for other regions, and so that new companies are established and jobs created.

My colleague has just mentioned the establishment of free economic zones. Yes, such zones are being stipulated, primarily in the tourist cluster. I think that this is a very good idea and we are certain to pursue it further. We will attract people from various regions of the Russian Federation and from different ethnic groups at the same time. I have recently visited the Republic of Khakassia. The head of the republic told me that about a dozen families had returned from Israel and Germany. I asked him whether those people had moved from Israel to Khakassia. Life is challenging in the republic and those people had never lived there before. They deliberately chose a place where to live. They live and work there, primarily in the agriculture sector. They are very good workers, and they are happy there. So, people are returning to Khakassia and they will also return to Ingushetia. That is not because Khakassia is worse but because it’s located further away.

Now about the Stavropol Territory. You see, it was impossible to prioritise the North Caucasus republics alone owing to their current economic situation. There should always be a leader, and the Stavropol Territory is certainly a leader. Judging by all parameters, it accounts for 40%-60%. But you see, there is something else here. I know that you didn’t tell me everything and I think that you should say it. You didn’t tell me that the local population is alarmed to see how many people, primarily young people, are arriving here from the North Caucasus.

There are several problems here. First, the local authorities should monitor this situation closely. Second, various university subsidiaries and local universities should not accept all the students who apply, letting them pay tuition, do nothing and use their student status just to be able to stay here. This does not concern the Stavropol Territory alone but other regions as well.

We must strictly enforce current legislation. Perhaps we should toughen the legislation and introduce criminal liability because it’s not just that the new people are arriving but someone is renting out accommodation to them. In some cases, 100 persons are registered in a 12 square metre room. Do you see what I mean? We need additional and systematic adjustments, so that new arrivals face no problems and are not humiliated, and at the same time the local residents have no problems either and feel at home in their regions. There is no unequivocal answer but perhaps the regions could be enlarged at some point in the future. But we must face the current challenges and think about ways to make this situation acceptable for everyone who lives in the Stavropol Territory and in the North Caucasus republics.

On long-standing cooperation between Stavropol Cossacks and mountain peoples

We have here many religious leaders, heads of republics, media representatives and cultural figures. In this connection, I would like to say this. Do you know what irritates the local population most? The irritant is often an arrogant attitude to local customs and the local culture. Often young people from the Caucasus would not have behaved like this at home, but here they think it is all right here. Why have I referred to the people present in this room? I would like to ask you to work with them and to educate them properly. Do you see my point? This is very important. Otherwise these attitudes will always cause irritation and spark off conflicts. Both visitors and local residents will be worse off as a result. We must leave this situation behind.

Remark: Excuse me, Mr Putin. In your article you made one striking point that could resolve all problems. I have a seven-year-old grandson, who has been training as a wrestler for two years. It would be ideal if he defeated many opponents, played the violin and knew many foreign languages. With these gentlemanly accomplishments to his credit, he can travel anywhere. The people here are quick-tempered. The Cossacks, our friends, are natural fighters. An ideal man is someone who is strong and confident. He will not behave arrogantly under any circumstances. These are the qualities that should be inculcated in young people by religious mentors and teachers at school. Do you agree with me?

Vladimir Putin: I fully agree. In the Caucasus, this nobleness runs in the blood. The people in the Caucasus have it running in their blood and it should only be enhanced by education. It’s fine that your grandson is a wrestler and a violin player.

On the Rosvertol plant

Remark: Mr Putin, you visited us in 2000, 12 years ago. Thank you very much for having contributed to the development of our plant. In 2000, we had a workforce of just 5,000, while now there are over 8,000 employees. But growth problems always lead to other problems. Once we were based in the outskirts of Rostov-on-Don, whereas today we are in the centre of a sprawling city. My request is this. In Bataisk – that’s not far from us – the Defence Ministry owns an airfield and some dilapidated plants that fell into disuse more than ten years ago. The defence minister even gave his consent, but it will take two to three years to draw up a title deed and to transfer that land to us legally. But we have no time to spare. On behalf of Rosvertol and Helicopters of Russia we would like to request that this area be transferred from the Defence Ministry’s balance sheet to ours, while for our part we guarantee that we will create 3,000 high-tech jobs and be among the first to join your programme on 25 million new high-tech jobs.

Vladimir Putin: What is Rosvertol’s organisational and legal status?

Remark: It is 98% government-owned.

Vladimir Putin: What about the remaining 2%?

Remark: Well, 2% is small fry. The package is owned by over 12,000 people.

Vladimir Putin: All right, it’s a good proposal. The problem is how do we make this balance-to-balance handover?

Remark: It could first be transferred to Oboronprom, which is a fully government-owned company.

Vladimir Putin: OK. You are right. I am not joking: You are right! The Defence Ministry has a lot of property that it cannot use. True, like any other agency, the Defence Ministry would like to be paid something for this property so that it can address some of its problems, including the provision of housing to servicemen. Nevertheless, we will see what we can do.

Remark: Mr Putin, all that is left over there is nothing but geographical coordinates. The rest is in ruins. Let me submit a letter to your Secretariat.

Vladimir Putin: No, not to the Secretariat. Give it to me, because the road via the Secretariat will be a long one.

On the programme for socio-economic development of the Republic of Kalmykia

Kalmykia is included in the Southern Russia Development Programme. Nevertheless, I will see specifically what the programme has to offer Kalmykia. We have several development programmes for the South. Southern Russia programme is one of them and it covers Chechnya and Ingushetia separately, because both are in a plight. Chechnya was hit particularly hard and has to grapple with much devastation. But I promise that as soon as I am back I will make a point of enquiring what the programme has to offer to Kalmykia and what can be done additionally. Thank you.

On support for the Cossacks

Igor Kochubeyev (assistant Cossack chief, the Stavropol District Cossack Society of the Terek Cossack Army Society): Mr Putin, my name is Igor Kochubeyev. I’m a hereditary Cossack of the Terek Cossack Army. As everybody knows, the Stavropol Territory is a Cossack region. Today, the territory’s Cossacks feel real support from the federal government and the territory administration. I would like to thank you on behalf of the Cossacks because you have also contributed to this. May I ask you a question? Do you think that the Terek Cossacks and the Cossacks as a whole are a factor of stability and support for the Russian nation and the Russian population in the North Caucasus? Thank you.

Vladimir Putin: You know, the Cossacks are a special caste, which had evolved over the centuries. It is a special subculture in the good sense of the word. The Cossacks are renowned for their unique traditions, which are very original, beautiful and fascinating. The Cossacks have always distinguished themselves in their service to Russia, and their patriotism is beyond any doubts. In this sense, the Cossacks are setting a good example to the Russian nation and to all other Russian ethnic groups, an example of how to serve our Motherland. Obviously, the Cossacks had suffered during the first years of the Soviet rule. But we know that the Cossacks themselves have accomplished a great deal in the past few years, primarily in reinstating their traditions. The state had supported the Cossacks and will certainly continue to support them.

On the return of Russian and Russian-speaking population to Chechnya

Indeed, let’s not now talk about the past, let’s not remember the painful events. Russian-speaking population – you are right, most of them were Russians – had left the republic, although some of them were… Certainly, this had a negative socioeconomic impact because many professionals had left. Now we must make sure they come back. It is absolutely right that the head of the republic supports this process and that he helps the people who have returned to achieve a high standard of living.

This applies to all people who consider themselves Russian and all Russian citizens of any ethnicity. We must return professionals to the republic, they are needed there for construction projects, which will continue to expand. For example, Rosneft plans to build a refinery there. The Chechens are famous oil workers who had gained quite a reputation in Soviet times.

The republic needs specialists. Local professionals must receive a high standard of training, and we must attract specialists from other Russian regions. Incidentally, Chechnya has posted the lowest Unified State Exam results. I believe this has more positive than negative aspects. Students’ grades are not very good yet, considering the colossal damage to the education system in previous years when Chechnya was in chaos, torn by a civil war. It is good that they don’t overstate Unified State Exam results, this is absolutely right, and university professors will understand me. This honest attitude towards students’ grades is the right thing to do and deserves every support. In other words, the education level must be raised by improving the level of knowledge, rather than by inflating Unified State Exam grades. As I see it, this process is taking place in Chechnya.

Assistance to low-income familiesin the Republic of North Ossetia-Alania

All of us here realise that the problems you have mentioned must be tackled at the regional level alone. Nevertheless, we will see what can be done, keeping in mind that North Ossetia-Alania has suffered greatly as a result of various developments in the past few years. I mean the terrible tragedy in Beslan, which will forever remain a bleeding wound in our hearts. It will certainly remain a bleeding wound inside my heart. We’ll think what else can be done for such families as yours.

The development of the Republic of Dagestan

We have a programme concerning the South of Russia, which also covers Dagestan. But bear in mind that Dagestan is the largest republic in the North Caucasus and it requires special attention. Government ministers, my colleagues, are present here. I will come back, and we will look together with the head of the Republic at the specific elements that should be added to the programme in order to promote Dagestan’s socioeconomic development, primarily its manufacturing sector.

However, what all of us must do together is celebrate the anniversary of Derbent, the oldest city in the Russian Federation. Some researchers believe that the first communities had been established there 5,000 years ago, and we know for a fact that a city had emerged there 2,000 years ago. It is a unique place in the context of human civilisation, and it deserves to be appreciated.

The enrolment of students from North Caucasus republics

I would like to say a few words about the Unified State Exam and the low academic level of students arriving from some North Caucasus republics. Yes, such a problem exists. I have already mentioned this with reference to Chechnya. But, I repeat that they don’t overstate this level, which is 0.4-0.5% as compared to other republics. And I think this is good, and that they are tackling this problem in a serious manner. Some republics do overstate this level, which has some negative consequences. As far as I remember, the Education Minister of Karachayevo-Circassia has been dismissed in connection with this issue.

Consequently, we must act along several directions. Certainly, we must improve the general education standards. Universities can expel the students who are unable to keep up with their curricula. Universities have numerous instruments and they must use them, although some of them simply don’t want to use those instruments. There is another method for assessing students’ knowledge. The Moscow State University uses such a method as interviewing students. We could think about it and extend this method to some other prestigious Russian universities, as well.  

New government after presidential elections, new agency to address ethnicities policy

Regarding the new government, I have already spoken about last year’s performance: Russia’s results were indeed among the best in the world, and that was not only due to favourable international factors. But the situation is certainly favourable. The oil price remains at a high enough level, but that is not all. The government should also be credited for its successful efforts. I already mentioned the low inflation, 6.1%, the lowest in 20 years. It is still high compared with other countries. On the other hand, it is already comparable with Britain’s 4.5%. How did we achieve this? First, we helped farmers with fuel and lubricants, mineral fertilisers, and transport, subsidised bank interest for their loans, and provided other kinds of support. They collected a large harvest, and food prices plunged instantly.

We gained superprofits last year. In fact we designated only 10% for consumption, and saved the rest in our reserve funds. We pursued a policy of inflation targeting. We also made significant efforts in other areas. One of these efforts was to create one of the most effective systems to fight unemployment, which works to reduce unemployment in each of Russia’s regions. I asked governors to lead this effort personally. A relevant programme was drafted and funding provided; it supported specific industries such as aircraft manufacturing, rocket and missile engineering, automaking and other sectors – I am not going to go into detail on the steps we took. Why am I saying this? Because, unfortunately, some problems have remained, and people certainly encounter those unresolved issues – such as housing and utilities problems – on a daily basis. These problems are snowballing and burdening all government agencies and local, regional and federal authorities. But this does not mean they should all be fired and replaced. The fact is that they have achieved good results despite the problems. Rotation is certainly needed; that much is obvious. Government officials will rotate.

But let us not start discussing the new government makeup until after the March 4 elections. I have not wanted to say this, but I will say it now. I am sincerely happy to have your support and I appreciate it immensely.  I am grateful, believe me. But I must also say that, with the predominant public sentiment being “Why bother? He’ll win anyway”, it would be wrong to decide that there is no need to go to the polls. There is a threat that people will think that.

Now, let’s discuss a new ministry. You know what I think and I wrote this in my article: unfortunately, in a complicated multiethnic country like Russia, we are failing to give proper attention to the issue of ethnic relations or relations between different faiths. The Regional Development Ministry never has enough time or resources to address the issue properly. The new ministry should not become just another bureaucratic agency. You are an active Internet user and blogger: why don’t you start an online discussion? Let us hear what people have to say about it. I see it as something highly responsive to acute problems, not a discussion club, but rather a government agency with some authority, resources and so on. Let us sit down together and work out the new agency’s organisational and legal format.

Razhap Musayev (editor of the Rukavkaz online resource, Chechen Republic): Thank you, I’ll open this discussion with pleasure and will send you the results afterwards.

Vladimir Putin: Thank you. I appreciate that. I am not being ironic or anything: I told Mr Dmitry Kozak right before entering this room that I didn’t have a final… I do have certain ideas, but not a final answer, and Mr Kozak, who is the government official responsible for the Regional Development Ministry, doesn’t have one either. This is not a simple issue, if we look at it from a practical point of view.

On Mikhail Shemyakin’s proposal to organise professional training in France for artists from the North Caucasus

It is really a very good idea, and I am ready to help. We have discussed this with Mikhail both in Russia and in France. But why does it have to be France? Can’t he organise it in Russia?

Remark: The idea is to open a centre with branches in Maykop and in France.

Vladimir Putin: All right, we’ll talk about it later. We are in touch with Mikhail and I will certainly discuss this with him again. I agree that the idea itself is very good.  

Regarding the judo school of Jakub Koblev, President of the Judo Federation of the South of Russia

Your school is truly famous, and the coach is obviously outstanding.

On the middle class

Vladimir Putin: Thank you. Obviously, we will need to take additional measures to foster the development of the middle class. And that’s exactly what I meant by saying that we need to create an additional 25 million high-tech jobs. These are middle class jobs. The middle class should include instructors, physicians and school teachers. They should form the basis of the middle class. In the early 2000s, only 10%-15% of the population could be classified as middle class.    

What does it mean to be a member of the middle class today? It means that you own your home, a car and have an income of about 30,000 roubles per month. Today, the number of people matching these criteria is about 30%-40% and it keeps increasing. Official statistics puts that figure at 30%, but when you speak to people, the number of those who include themselves in the middle class is as high as 40%. Granted, there is still a lot to be done to create proper conditions for these people.       

On the emigration abroad

As for the emigration of our specialists abroad, that problem is called the brain drain, and I have already mentioned it earlier. In today’s open world… As the saying goes, we are always looking for “greener pastures.” Professionals will always go to the places where incomes are higher.  

In fact, while our people go to Europe, Europeans leave for the United States, where incomes are higher. It’s a constant process. Our task is to create the best working conditions in our country for highly qualified professionals. This includes a high salary level, well-equipped laboratories for young scientists, and most importantly, decent housing. We realise all this and will keep working in that direction. But we can’t do it overnight, although in certain areas we can ensure the best conditions. We will think about that.       

Vladimir Putin’s closing remarks:

Dear friends, I understand that many of you would like to speak, but we need to wrap up, so I hope you are not upset about this. I would like to thank you for today’s frank and lively conversation. It was not even a conversation, but a discussion on a very delicate and sensitive subject for any nation, and especially for a country like Russia.

It means a great deal that respected people from your region who are present here today spoke so frankly about these important issues. It indicates that we are ready for such discussions and it also means that we can jointly resolve any issues. Thank you very much.

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Following the Forum of Ethnic Groups of Southern Russia, Vladimir Putin met with the heads of the constituent entities that form the Southern and North Caucasian Federal Districts