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Civil G8 NGO Forum

Excerpts from the transcript of
President Vladimir Putin's Address
to the Civil G8 NGO Forum

Moscow, July 4, 2006

Vladimir Putin: Good afternoon dear ladies and gentlemen!

It is a great honour and pleasure for me to speak in front of such a wide and varied audience today, to welcome you all, and to thank you for coming to Moscow.

More than 40 Russian NGOs initiated the project of Civil G8 2006. It includes NGOs from all the continents. A round table of NGO experts took place, there was another forum in March and meetings with Sherpas... I just heard complimentary words addressed to the Russian Sherpa. I know that he has also tried to set up direct channels of communication, to hear -- and not only to hear but to listen to -- the ideas that you expressed during these meetings. And just now I looked at the projects of your final documents and I must say that to a large degree the ideas they contain are reflected in the final documents that are now being prepared for the leaders of the G8 summit that will take place in St Petersburg. And I think that to a great extent this is a result of the teamwork we have undertaken together over the past few months.

As I said before, many of your ideas are reflected in the final documents. In particular the NGO proposal to create an Association to Establish Systematic Mechanisms, Consultations and Supervision for Implementing the Summit's Decisions requires separate attention. I am confident that your experience and knowledge of life's situations, the way you work with people - you work directly with people - will be reflected in concrete recommendations and will able to make a significant contribution to the present and following G8 summits. I would like to say at once and quite frankly that some of your recommendations and documents that I have seen will cause disagreements within the G8. Of course this is the case. I am not sure that all those present here today agree one hundred percent on, shall we say, stopping the development of nuclear energy. And I saw this recommendation within your documents.

I agree with the fact that we should, for example, work at developing alternative energy sources, above all renewable energy sources, but probably the sequence of our actions should be a bit different. I am already starting to discuss the issues and I want to stop doing so. But it seems to me that at first of all we must develop an alternative for humanity, that first we must propose an alternative and then we can stop developing nuclear energy. Although other opinions certainly are possible.

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From the hall (group holding a poster: "No Nuclear Energy!"): "No Nuclear Energy!".

Ella Pamfilova (talking to the demonstrators): We are very glad to see you here today. But please sit down and continue participating. If you want, you can stand up for what will be about two hours.

Vladimir Putin: Let people go about their own business. We are not going to get in their way. They came here to make themselves known and we should give them that opportunity.

Civil society in Russia differs from civil society in the so-called traditional democracies. And what I am going to say refers to this. Institutions of civil society were established only a short time ago. But as we understand it, the state's role consists in creating all the necessary conditions for their development and, first and foremost, the necessary legislative conditions. I will go into a bit more detail on this issue, especially with regards to Russia -- I am not sure if this topic has already been mentioned or not -- I am referring to our law on non-governmental organisations. We have all heard the criticisms in this respect. 

What would I like to say? You have probably heard many of our arguments but I will repeat some of them because I am not sure that everyone knows the situation in detail.

After the law was brought before the State Duma and after it was criticized for the first time what did I, your obedient servant, do? I sent the Justice Minister of the Russian Federation to Strasbourg where he discussed the document in detail with his European colleagues. Within the Council of Europe in Strasbourg an expert group with specialists from two departments (justice and human rights) and international experts was created. This group went into substantial detail and in the end they made a written proposal for making amendments to our bill. I want to emphasize that these proposals were made in writing. After this I relayed these proposals in their entirety to the Russian parliament as amendments on behalf of the President of the Russian Federation. And the Parliament of the Russian Federation and the State Duma considered all of these amendments.

I simply draw your attention to how work on this law proceeded. And I also concede that this document was not perfect. That is possible. But this does not exclude the fact that Russian NGOs, or any public associations, could draw attention to certain aspects and make all the necessary remarks and proposals during the legislative process. And, let me assure you, we will consider all these remarks and proposals.

What did I want to say in conclusion? When people refer to the G8, they are first of all referring to discussions or, if not solutions, than the search for solutions to problems on the international agenda, crucial problems for the development of humanity. And as heads of countries, we are very pleased when we hear people refer to the leaders of G8 countries. Whether we are leaders or not is a different question, but one thing that is certain is that we are the heads of state and government and, like our colleagues in other countries, we act based on our right to do so, a right that is received in a democratic process, either during an election campaign in parliament or through a direct vote for the head of state, such as in the Russian Federation. But a significant portion of the citizens of our countries do not work in administrative structures and believe that official governmental structures have too much bureaucracy to understand and empathize with the needs of ordinary people, and to register the acuteness of certain problems that face humanity. And such people work, first and foremost, in public and non-governmental organisations.

I want to draw your attention to the fact that my colleague and I -- and I am referring to both the British Prime Minister, the President of France and my other colleagues in G8 member countries -- have tried before and are now trying to enter into a dialogue with non-governmental organisations, to hear your voices and your opinions. And if in past years the leaders of non-governmental organisations invited to the forum were not representative enough, then today, as you see, we have invited a wide range of representatives to this forum.

I want to assure you that what you say will be transmitted to the leaders of G8 countries and we will do more than just pay close attention to your proposals, we will analyse your proposals in the most possible detail and we will take them into account when making our final decisions.

Thank you very much for your attention.

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On energy security

Vladimir Putin: <...> Regarding a compensation tax on extraction that would see the revenue raised used to develop other forms of energy production... I think that increasing the tax burden is not always the best option because we, myself included, cannot be sure that the money really will be spent on these objectives. But I do think that it is right and indeed necessary to call on governments to allocate more resources to developing alternative energy sources. 

Regarding nuclear energy, discussions at the G8 summit will centre not on developing nuclear energy in the world but on nuclear safety. This is the issue we are set to look at in St Petersburg. Of course, since you have made this recommendation [on nuclear safety], we will, of course, bring it to the attention of our colleagues, the G8 leaders. I must say, however, that some of my colleagues were against even discussing the matter, not because they are opposed to nuclear safety, but because of the fairly hard-line position taken by non-governmental organisations in their own countries on the nuclear issue. I don't think this is the right approach, however, and I have managed to convince them to change their minds by citing the Chernobyl disaster. If we have France, for example, with 80 percent of its energy generating capacity in the nuclear sector, then nuclear safety concerns all of us, even those countries who have decided to end their nuclear energy programmes (such as Germany, which has decided not to build any new nuclear power plants). But safety is an issue for everybody. We know this better than anyone after having gone through the Chernobyl disaster. In the end then, everyone has agreed to discuss the question of nuclear safety in St Petersburg.    

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On education

Vladimir Putin: <...> Education has been on the agenda in one way or another at practically all the previous G8 summits. I remember that education was among the subjects discussed the first time I took part in this work, the question of education for girls in developing countries, for example, an issue that has been brought up here today too, and the Education for All Programme and other issues.

As you know, our country has encountered certain problems, especially after the collapse of the Soviet Union. We still have many unresolved economic and social issues. One of these is homeless children. This came as a surprise for us because we thought this could not happen in our country, but the problem is real, as is the problem of providing a proper education for disabled children. These are very important issues.

To address the concrete details, you named a figure of $10 billion in additional spending on education, and for the G8 countries this is perhaps not such a large amount of money and we would be able to come up with these funds. There remains the question, however, of fulfilling all of our previous commitments and decisions in this area. Not all decisions have been implemented in full and our position is that we must first complete previous work and only then take on new commitments or declare new commitments. What you are saying is going in absolutely the right direction, however.  

My final point, and also a very important issue in my view, regards the point you raised about the need to create a system for exchanging information and experience on education issues between the NGOs and the professional community in the G8 countries. Unfortunately, I have to tell you that work on preparing the documents for the G8 summit is too bureaucratic a process and I doubt that we will able to include this point in the final documents. I say this with regret because I think it is a very important issue and I think that your proposal is very interesting and entirely feasible. I promise you that I will raise this issue during the free discussions on education, and what I can definitely do is include it in the president's final statement. I think that my colleagues will definitely react to your proposal and we will reflect on what we can do to implement it.   

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On the fight against AIDS

Vladimir Putin: You have said that you would like to see the subject of combating infectious diseases on the agenda for this and future G8 summits. The agenda for future summits will be set by the countries hosting them. Next year, this will be the Federal Republic of Germany. I will pass on your wish, of course. But as with education, the fight against infectious diseases is one of the subjects that always comes up on the agenda in one way or another.

We are all well aware of how the drug addiction problem is linked to security and counter-terrorism issues. We know, for example, that 90 percent of the heroin arriving on the British market today comes from Afghanistan. Part of the G8's work is to examine these issues as a whole, identifying, of course, the main points on which we need to focus our attention. These main points include, of course, the fight against infectious diseases, and not only HIV-AIDS, but also hepatitis, tuberculosis and other diseases. Even as seemingly innocuous infection as the flu causes huge human and economic losses and can undermine the economies of entire countries. 

I want to assure you that not only will I pass on your concerns, but I am sure - and I will say this to Mrs Merkel - that the future German presidency will also give its attention to the problems you have raised. (I do not have the right to speak for Mrs Merkel, but I know how the German leadership feels about these issues).

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On global socio-economic policy

Vladimir Putin: <...> Cancelling debts cannot be presented as a form of direct development aid without changing the structure of international economic relations itself. The existing structure of international economic relations will just create new debts again and again. What is the point of writing off debts if they only begin to grow again? And they will continue to grow unless, say, developed countries don't stop subsidising some sectors of their economies, above all agriculture. But try telling some countries that they have to end subsidies. They would have big problems, including with the âÄòhelp' of NGOs. A large number of NGOs in the G8 countries would defend, say, agriculture subsidies in their countries, and this will continue to produce poverty in the developing countries. Then the G8 leaders will kindly write off these debts over and over.

As far as cancelling debts goes, Russia is, I think, in third place in absolute terms for writing off developing countries' debts after Japan and France. That is in absolute terms of billions of dollars. And regarding the amount of cancelled debts as a share of GDP, we are in first place. We will continue to work in solidarity with our colleagues, of course. I particularly want to draw to your attention that we will continue working on support for African countries. I am also grateful to you for drawing attention to the situation in some CIS countries, which in terms of their development level and budget revenue are closer to the least developed countries and need the assistance of the international community.  

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On human rights

Vladimir Putin: I would like to come back to our law on non-governmental organisations because some of you have raised an issue that I mentioned at the beginning, and that is that there are certain problems that could arise from the law's application. We heard one of our Russian colleagues speak here about a possible toughening of registration procedures. But in principle, it is possible to toughen registration procedures without passing any laws. Administrative procedures can be designed in such a way as to make it impossible for any organisations to function. Laws in general - and our law too - aim at bringing some order to this area but not at restricting organisations' work. I can say again that if it turns out that registration procedures have become tougher, we are ready to react and ready to even initiate changes, including in line with your recommendations.

To be entirely sincere and frank with you, I personally have only one concern that I will always oppose and combat (and I have spoken about it before and am ready to repeat it now for this audience). I am against having foreign governments finance political activity in our country, just as our government should not finance political activity in other countries. This is an area for our citizens and for their own organisations, and activity in this area should be financed by our people, by our public or financial organisations.

Everything else, including human rights, is the common foundation in all civilised countries and is an area where all organisations can work. Of course, in places where military conflicts are going on, there are almost always human rights violations. This has always been the case and, unfortunately, probably always will be, because it is hard to control observance of laws and the rules of war. Nowhere are they observed in full and they never have been. The best thing to do is ensure that situations do not reach the point of conflict in the first place. And we need to do everything we can to minimise human losses and suffering.   

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On Chechnya

Vladimir Putin: As I have said many times and will say again now, we place immense importance on resolving the situation in Chechnya. As you know, there are no military operations underway there now. There are outbreaks of terrorist activity, but no military operations are going on. The army is in the barracks. There are troops stationed there, just as there are troops stationed in other parts of the Russian Federation. They are there on a permanent basis and are occupied with the same activities as troops elsewhere in the country - training and carrying out military duty.

The law enforcement agencies of Chechnya itself, staffed almost completely by local people, are responsible for deciding 80-90 percent of law enforcement issues in the republic.

We have been told many times of the need to involve all political forces in Chechnya in all the different areas of work in the republic, including in the law enforcement sector. Around 20 percent of the law enforcement agencies in Chechnya are staffed almost 100 percent by local people, and 20 percent of these people are people who previously took up arms to fight the federal forces. 

Not only has Chechnya adopted a constitution and elected a parliament, but the parliament represents almost all, all in fact, of the political forces. One of the deputies in the Chechen parliament today is the former defence minister in the Maskhadov government, and there are other representatives of similar political groups. We will continue to do everything possible to ensure that whatever the difficulties, civil society continues to develop there.

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On migration and immigrants' rights

Vladimir Putin: This is an extremely important subject. It is becoming more and more important for us and it is also extremely important for the other G8 countries, perhaps even more so than for Russia. This is a very complicated issue. The first point I would like to make is that most certainly people who arrive in a new country are in need of particular protection. This is without doubt. This is because they do not have rights, usually do not know the language, the conditions and the laws of the country they have come to, and so they of course require special protection. And you have been and will remain, perhaps, the best defenders of their rights.  

But we also have to take into account the reality of the situation, and that is that if governments in countries taking in immigrants do not think also about how to protect the rights of their own citizens, this could lead to the kinds of things that concern us so much: xenophobia and ethnic or religious intolerance. In other words, the citizens of countries taking in immigrants have to feel that their governments are following balanced policies.

Yes, governments protect immigrants and look after their rights, but it is not enough to simply talk about protection. Governments also have to make resources available to help people adapt to their new life, to teach them the language, provide jobs and so on. And they have to ensure that conflicts do not arise with their citizens, otherwise there will be manifestations of xenophobia and intolerance towards people from other ethnic groups, minorities and so on. Even in the political arena this can lead to a shift to the right. We have already seen the dangerous trends in some European countries where right-wing politicians are winning more and more votes by speculating on the fact that issues of this kind remain to be regulated.

I therefore call on you to take a balanced and carefully thought-through approach and to engage in open dialogue with the authorities on these issues. 

I want to say again that not only must we react firmly and rapidly to any manifestations of xenophobia and intolerance, which is important in itself, but we must also pursue a balanced policy with regard to the local population so that the citizens of countries taking in immigrants also feel protected, other we will end up seeing the same thing as what has happened in world trade. I am not talking about day-to-day manifestations of these problems (we all understand what takes place in real life), but about other problems too, problems with the labour market, for example, and we have to deal with these issues too.

The enlargement of the European Union has seen production capacity shift to countries with more favourable economic conditions and a cheaper labour force. This does nothing to improve relations between different ethnic and religious groups. State leaders must think about all these different issues and not just say that we will take a firmer stand in combating xenophobia. We need to understand what gives rise to this xenophobia, look for the root of the problem and fight its cause. 

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On the Iranian nuclear programme

Vladimir Putin: The Iranian nuclear programme will certainly be one of the main issues at the summit. We very much hope that our Iranian partners will accept the proposals the six countries have made and that we will be able to open negotiations based on these proposals as soon as possible. We would very much like to see these talks begin before the summit in St Petersburg, but it seems this is not possible. In that case then we need to work out when they will begin. Russia is committed to doing everything it can to help settle this crisis and we will work together with our European and American partners to find acceptable solutions so as to give Iran access to modern technology on the one hand, while on the other hand addressing the international community's concerns regarding proliferation of nuclear military technology and ensuring that all work in this area is under the constant control of international organisations, above all the IAEA.

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On strategic offensive arms reduction talks

Vladimir Putin: This is a very important issue and rather than becoming less relevant today it is more important than ever as, given the prospects for developing strategic offensive weapons, these kinds of arms are becoming very dangerous. Placing nuclear weapons in space, for example, would be a huge threat to humanity as a whole. We need to know about this and we need to be talking about it instead of keeping silent on it. There is also the possibility of using ballistic missiles to deliver a non-nuclear warhead. You don't need to be a big specialist or any kind of specialist at all to realise how dangerous this is. If someone launches a non-nuclear strategic missile other nuclear powers could think this an attack against them. No one would know if the missile in question is delivering a nuclear or non-nuclear warhead, but the response to such launches takes place in the space of just a few minutes, and to a large extent the response could be automatic.

Then there is, say, the matter of low-intensity nuclear devices. These days we here from various quarters about the possibility of using low-intensity nuclear devices. But who is going to calculate what the difference is between low-, mid- and high-intensity devices, where one begins and the other ends? This is a very dangerous trend. I understand the feelings of those who defend this or that position, speaking of the need to fight terrorism, to ensure greater security when carrying out this or that kind of operation, and achieving this or that objective more effectively, but we need to examine all of these issues as a whole.

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On the environment

Vladimir Putin: <...> Regarding national and international mechanisms for incorporating environmental security into the implementation of major projects, I agree that it would be good to establish such mechanisms. Formally speaking, such mechanisms already exist in our country and in all other countries. But we all know that just as art requires sacrifice, so too does development. Of course, we must ensure that these sacrifices are minimal and either exclude them or make available the necessary resources for environmental recovery and regeneration. 

Unfortunately, we often see that environmental problems are used at corporate and intergovernmental level as an instrument in competition. This undermines the foundations of relations between states and environmental organisations. In this respect, your argument that we need to develop absolutely transparent instruments that work clearly and effectively at national and international level is a very sound idea. If we can succeed in doing this, if only at national level, I will be very happy because like any other citizen, I want to live in a healthy environment and I want my children to live in a healthy environment. We all share this desire. But we have to find a balance between economic development and protecting the environment.

Of course, we will not be able to resolve this question if we do not create such institutions at national and international level. At the national level we, understanding this problem, have not only signed but also ratified the Kyoto Protocol, as you know. Not all the G8 countries have done so. It is not our intention to criticise their position. This is their decision and they seem to have their reasons for it, all the more so as the scientific community does not all agree on the issue of global warming, which is said to be caused by human activity. Some scientists of well-established reputation think there is no direct link between human economic activity and global warming and back up their claims with figures, conclusions, analysis of previous eras of human development and so forth.

And we, the people who make the political decisions, cannot ignore their voices. We need to listen to all views. Nevertheless, despite the lack of unanimity in the professional community, Russia decided that things will not be any worse if we ratify the Kyoto Protocol. In any case, we are indicating the direction in which we should move and are showing our concern. We have ratified the protocol and we will continue to make our contribution to this common effort, but we would like our partners to take our views and our interests into account in the negotiating process on all of these issues.

We do not think that all of our interests were taken into account during the negotiations on Russia's accession to the Kyoto Protocol. Our forests, for example, were not sufficiently taken into account when the conditions for Russia's accession to this protocol were drawn up. Our forests are the lungs of the planet and are processing all of these greenhouse gases. But the possibilities of our forests were not taken into account for our country the way it was done for some other countries that are ranked among the developing nations, but which in terms of greenhouse gas emissions have a far more serious impact on the global environment than does the Russian Federation. You know which countries I have in mind. These countries are perhaps formally speaking among the developing nations, but they have huge economies and huge emissions.

We will definitely keep working in this direction and there can be no doubt about this.

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On genetic engineering

Vladimir Putin: <...> As far as giving special attention to the problem of genetically modified products goes, I am very happy to have come here today because I feel as though I am here among likeminded people and I say this without any exaggeration.  

One of the problems we have encountered during our negotiations on joining the World Trade Organisation is that we are being forced to renounce what I see as our right to inform our own public in the retail outlets about products manufactured using genetic engineering. Some countries with whom we are currently in the process of completing negotiations as it were, have made it one of their main demands that we stop informing our public about genetically modified products. You can guess which countries I am referring to. These are countries that have gone a long way in developing genetic engineering and that grow a lot of agricultural produce using these technologies. But we will insist on using the standards that the NGOs are proposing.

Thank you very much for your position on this issue. 

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On corruption

Vladimir Putin: The problem of corruption is one of the most important issues in state activity. Unfortunately, where you have the state you also have corruption. This has always been the case and it is universal. But it is all a question of scale. In some places corruption is at an unacceptable level and this is an issue requiring particular attention. I call on business to also get involved in fighting corruption. I call on you not to help corruption grow, not to bribe anyone and not to give anyone extra money, but to work within the framework of the law. 

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Source: Civil G8 website

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