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Meeting of Council for Civil Society and Human Rights

October 30, 2017, The Kremlin, Moscow

Vladimir Putin chaired a meeting of the Council for Civil Society and Human Rights at the Kremlin.

The focus of the meeting was on measures to implement the State Policy Concept on immortalising the memory of victims of political repression.

The agenda also included issues related to the Council’s activities on ensuring citizens’ environmental rights, in particular, access to information on the environment and the construction of household waste processing facilities.

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Transcript of the meeting of the Council for Civil Society and Human Rights

President of Russia Vladimir Putin: Good afternoon, colleagues.

Today we will discuss topics that are in the focus of attention of the human rights community. I strongly hope that our meeting will be oriented at results, as usual, and that we will take the necessary decisions.

However, I propose that we begin by paying tribute to Yelizaveta Glinka and Daniil Dondurei with a minute of silence. We had no opportunity since our previous meeting to commemorate these outstanding, wonderful people who have done so much for their country and society, as well as for this Council. Their death is a huge loss.

This Council focuses on the most acute issues in various spheres, and it greatly contributes to providing an objective view of the situation with human rights. We need this Council to continue to act as a barometer of the public mood and to give priority attention to matters of concern for the majority of people.

Human rights organisations and the state must work together to ensure full respect for these basic rights so that people are confident that their social rights are protected.

At our previous meeting, we discussed matters concerning non-profit organisations acting as foreign agents. Upon my instructions and in line with the proposals that followed and were articulated by many of you present here, the law enforcement practice in relation to such NPOs has been analysed. Tatiana Moskalkova [Human Rights Commissioner in the Russian Federation] and Mikhail Fedotov [Adviser to the President, Chairman of the Presidential Council for Civil Society and Human Rights] took active part in this work.

The roster of foreign agents was almost halved, with their number down to 89 from 165, which represents only 0.39 percent of the total number of NPOs registered in the Russian Federation. Also, four times fewer organisations were added to the roster in 2017 than in 2016.

Of course, this would be impossible to accomplish without the non-profit organisations revising their positions themselves. As you are aware, to be taken off the roster, an NPO must either stop engaging in political activities or refuse to receive foreign money. NPOs are quite actively taking the second path.

All the more so since favourable conditions have been put in place, so they do not have to look abroad for funding political activities, but can now get financing in Russia. Over 22 billion rubles have been released to promote NPOs over the past five years within the framework of the presidential grant support programme alone, whereas the annual amount of financing has increased seven-fold.

Colleagues, our meeting is held on the Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Political Repression. The Wall of Sorrow memorial will be unveiled today. Its creation is the result of the Council’s activities, as is the elaboration of the very State Policy Concept to perpetuate the memory of victims of political repression.

The opening of the monument is especially important as we mark the 100th anniversary of the 1917 revolution. I hope that our society will use this date to close the chapter on the dramatic events that divided our country and our nation, and that it will become a symbol of overcoming this schism, of mutual forgiveness and of embracing Russian history as it is, with all its great victories and tragic events.

I have no doubt that the council will continue to work for the unity of our society, to act as an objective and wise arbiter in overcoming all challenges, even the most complicated.

I would like to give the floor to Mr Fedotov.

Adviser to the President, Chairman of the Presidential Council for Civil Society and Human Rights Mikhail Fedotov: Thank you, Mr President.

Thank you for your kind words about Ms Glinka and Mr Dondurei. Admittedly, both of them were filled with that spirit of self-sacrifice, and today, on the Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Political Repression, we will cover the subject of victims extensively. They were filled with that spirit of self-sacrifice, which drove many Soviet human rights activists who were actual victims of political repression.

Today, we will all participate in the unveiling of a national memorial. However, has the victim rehabilitation process been completed? Not in a narrow legal sense but in the broad human sense? In the sense of restoring what has been lost? Have all of them got back their manuscripts, their good deeds, and their good name?

For example, Andrei Sakharov was awarded the title of Hero of Socialist Labour three times for his scientific research. However, in January 1980, he was stripped of this title for his human rights activities, and this injustice has so far not been remedied. The 100th anniversary of the birth of Andrei Sakharov is coming soon, and we have concrete proposals on how to celebrate the anniversary of this great scientist and human rights activist.

In a sense, we are all victims of the political repression of the recent past. An amenability to propaganda, fear of superiors, dependency, and intolerance took root deep within us. ”The disunity of humankind threatens to ruin it,“ Andrei Sakharov wrote.

The disunity of society is just as dangerous. Only by means of a candid dialogue, universal propaganda disarmament, respect for human dignity, solidarity in the face of common threats can we achieve genuine rehabilitation of our society and restore its vitality.

Next year the world will celebrate the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Our Constitution has absorbed the full potential of the declaration but we are still facing many practical problems. This is why we propose drafting a national plan of action on human rights that would envisage long-term legislative and other efforts aimed at achieving real progress in implementing the full range of human rights. At the same time, it will be necessary to create a mechanism for open public monitoring of the national plan.

This plan should also make room for those who consider themselves victims of injustice – injustice committed by judges, investigators, governors, mayors and heads of enterprises and organisations. At this point, I immediately recall the proposal to establish the institution of independent prosecutor made by Tamara Morshakova at our previous meeting.

Regrettably, this idea was not developed further but the problem of restoring justice cannot remain unresolved. This is why there is an idea to try to approach this problem from another angle. If it is impossible to create the proposed institution, we may try to ensure independence for prosecutors.

This is the reason for the suggestion to give prosecutors the right to open criminal cases when the matter deals with the protection of human rights and freedoms, to act in defence of the rights of citizens in all civil suits of any instance, to have access to all materials of a criminal case during pre-trial investigation, and to give preliminary consent to an investigator seeking an arrest or search warrant from the courts. At the same time, it would be useful to introduce an annual report by prosecutors to the public. To decrease the number of victims, it is necessary to raise donations for their defence.

You have just said, Mr President, that the sum of grants to support NGOs has been considerably increased. This is absolutely so, but I suggest thinking about giving the fund of presidential grants the right to receive and distribute, on a competitive basis, not only budgetary funds but also donations of domestic and foreign corporations that are interested in the development of Russian civil society. This is particularly important for human rights organisations because Russian charities are afraid to support them, while taking money from foreign funds means becoming a foreign agent.

Colleagues, we are pressed for time today. At 5 pm, hundreds of people will be expecting us on Prospekt Akademika Sakharova in the cold wind and rain for the opening of a memorial to the victims of political repression. Among them, there will be many former Gulag prisoners, people who are not particularly young, to put it mildly. Therefore, I tried to keep my remarks as short as possible and I am asking all speakers to do the same or, at least, to stay within the allotted time.

I have another request for you, Mr President. Please make time to meet with the Council again in the spring, so that we could report to you on the results of monitoring the presidential election campaign and take our time discussing that issue without being distracted by other human rights topics.

Vladimir Putin: All right, thank you very much.

Some of our colleagues suggested suspending the broadcast, and publishing a written report, a transcript, instead, but I do not see the point of doing so. Let us continue broadcasting until the end of our meeting.

Usually, we do not limit ourselves in terms of time and spend two to three hours discussing matters here. Today, we will keep it short, so what? Let the broadcast continue, if there are no objections, of course.

Ms Alekseyeva, you have the floor.

Lyudmila Alekseyeva: Mr President,

As a human rights activist with over 50 years of experience, I will speak about what concerns me as a human rights activist. I am referring to the pardon procedure introduced by you, Mr President, in late 2001.

It does not involve too many steps, just three. First, of course, the convicted person draws up a request for pardon, and then gets an opinion from the prison administration.

The pardon request and this opinion are sent to a regional commission for pardons and then, with its opinion attached, to the Presidential Executive Office, which drafts a list of pardons to be considered by the President, who, according to our Constitution, is the only person in our country entitled to pardon convicted people.

Everything is right in your executive order: the procedure is not lengthy, and there is not too much red tape. Regional authorities are in a better position to decide whom to pardon, so it is reasonable to delegate to them the right to look into that matter. However, the Executive Order was issued 15 years ago, and we can already summarise the results of the new procedure.

It turned out, Mr President, that you have, of your own accord, transferred the right granted to you and only you, to members of regional clemency commissions, that is people who you do not know at all. Who are these people?

They are appointed by governors, who send their people to such commissions. These are fairly cushy jobs. After all, when someone is put in prison, that person or their families and friends will do their utmost to get them out of there.

I do not want to say anything bad about members of clemency commissions, or the governors. I have known Mr Belykh, the former governor of Kirov Region, for many years, even back when he was just a middling businessman. We also met after he became governor.

I can vouch for him: he did not take bribes; he is just not that kind of person. However, I do not know anyone from regional clemency commissions, even in Moscow. There may well be corrupt people on these commissions. It is just common sense, since these are very lucrative jobs.

Of course, Mr President, you yourself cannot pick people to sit on the clemency commissions, you should delegate this task to someone. However, you can personally pick the people who make such appointments. These must be people who are well known to you and many other people in Russia, with good reputations, so that neither you, nor our fellow citizens have any doubt about their honesty.

In addition, this work should be a civic service, and be performed free of charge. There is much work to do, but, most importantly, it must be a clemency council under the President. Only you have this right, so do not delegate it to anyone. Gratitude for being pardoned must go only to the President and no one else.

Mr President, despite being confined to a wheelchair, I am willing to join such a council, if, of course, you have no objections. Members of such a council should be known to everyone in our country. I even have a list of people who meet these requirements. It includes actress Chulpan Khamatova, State Duma deputy Galina Khovanskaya, senator Vladimir Lukin who is also the former Human Rights Commissioner, Nikolai Svanidze whom many people know from television, and former Human Rights Commissioner for Moscow Alexander Muzykantsky, to name a few.

Tatiana Moskalkova will help you identify such people better that anyone. She knows such people not only from her current work, but also because she was previously involved in pardon- related matters. She is working selflessly and tirelessly in her current demanding post as well.

A few statistics in conclusion. The former Clemency Commission pardoned 36,901 convicts over five years, from 1996 to 2001. At that time, it included people known by everyone – Bulat Okudzhava, Anatoly Pristavkin, Lev Razgon and Alexander Bovin. After this procedure was transferred to the regions, only 890 convicts were pardoned from 2002 to 2016, that is, in 15 years.

Our people have felt pity for convicts since ancient times, calling them the “unfortunates.” You know, peasants in Siberia even left food for convicts at large in forest warden’s huts. This sympathy for the “unfortunates” has continued to this day despite television, which tries to foment in its audience hysterical hatred for everyone and the entire world.

This hysterical hatred is growing throughout the country – the efforts of television are not in vain. But it does not spread to the “unfortunates.” People continue to feel sorry for them and remember merciful rather than stingy rulers. So Mr President, the abolition of the Presidential Clemency Commission did you a disservice. This is all I wanted to say about the pardons procedure. I will just add by asking you to be a merciful President in people’s eyes. Our people greatly value mercy.

Another subject, very briefly. There is a public association – the Congress of the Intelligentsia. Its members are very estimable people. You will see it for yourself from the signatures under this statement that I will hand over to you. About three thousand people have already signed it. I signed it as well.

Why did we write it? Our Duma passes prohibitive laws like hot cakes. But people are not fools. Residents of Moscow, your native St Petersburg and million-strong cities have stopped watching television or are stopping. They are switching to the internet. At the same time, protests are becoming radicalised among the progressive segment of the nation.

I am not a radical by nature. I do not want radicalisation or for protest sentiments to go underground. I have been for openness my whole life, even if it is dangerous. I want our nation, the entire nation – not only those who do not want to think or cannot think – to respect and love the President we have elected. To achieve this it is not necessary to fool us with television.

Enough with all these bans! We already have more bans than necessary for people to breathe freely. And people should not have to leave the country for that reason. Mr President, it is necessary to change the attitude of the authorities to citizens.

We need to be convinced, not cowed. This is more difficult but this is the only way of normalising relations between the authorities and citizens, especially the thinking part of society. Of course, this is always a minority but it is growing.

Why am I telling you all this, Mr President? You know this without me. Therefore, I thank you for your attention.

If possible I would like to hand over to you my letter about Academician Yuri Pivovarov, a statement by the Congress of the Intelligentsia that I spoke about and another two letters that my colleagues in the Council asked to give you.

Vladimir Putin: Thank you very much.

As for the main issue – the need to improve the institution of clemency – probably, or rather definitely, we should be thinking about this all the time. I do not think that the current procedure is perfect. I believe it was established 15 years ago – in 2002.

Let me recall what kind of time that was. It was a time of great trials for Russian statehood and the bloody events in the North Caucasus. I believe this procedure – more administrative in nature – was needed, considering what I mentioned. It is possible to think about restoring the Council. We must thoroughly analyse the practice of the past few years and make this decision without any rush.

I will not say anything about the concluding part of your speech. You are right. There should be fewer bans and all decisions, state acts and the regulatory base should be aimed at resolving concrete problems. This is understandable.

As for specific issues, for instance, whether the Kirov Region Governor is guilty or not, this verdict must be issued by a court. But would you not agree that his explanation sounds strange: a regional governor takes money from a businessman, in Moscow rather than Kirov, in a restaurant rather than an office, and in currency rather than roubles. All this sounds very strange. This is why I think it is necessary to wait for the verdict without getting ahead of things.

Thank you very much for your proposals.

Mr Svanidze, you have the floor.

Remark: Mr President, I am sorry. Could I say just a few words?

Vladimir Putin: No, just a moment. Mr Svanidze will speak now. Let everyone speak – I am referring to those who signed up to make remarks – and then we will move on to a discussion. I hope we will have enough time for that.

Mr Svanidze, please.

Nikolai Svanidze: Mr President, colleagues,

The report that Mr Fedotov will shortly put on your table is rather voluminous with over 30 pages of summarised facts derived from analysis and recommendations. The rest, which, in fact, creates the volume, are attachments to it. I will explain what the attachments are all about.

The issue is about public rallies, in this case, using the rallies of March 26 and June 12 as examples: on March 26, rallies took place in 61 Russian regions. There were 136 rallies, of which 91 were coordinated with the authorities and 45 were not. This is a serious matter. I will say right away, it is better to coordinate than not.

This, firstly, corresponds to Article 31 of our Constitution. Secondly, we have Federal Law No. 54, and thirdly, the ruling of the Constitutional Court of February 4, 2013. That is, the legal framework is substantive, although it needs to be further developed.

In addition, practice shows us that it is better to coordinate rallies. During rallies coordinated with the authorities, the number of violations and detentions tends to be zero. Both sides should be seeking to coordinate such rallies, but the authorities have incommensurably more resources and capabilities. They have a completely different level of responsibility, and the authorities are held accountable to a much greater degree.

The first attachment to the report includes documents showing a variety of ways to deny coordination of rallies in the Russian regions. There is a wealth of information. Unfortunately, it leads to an unpleasant conclusion that the leadership of many regions, including Moscow and St Petersburg, lacks the desire to coordinate political events.

The reasons for refusal to coordinate abound, including the replacement of tiling in Astrakhan, emergency repairs of the irrigation water pipe, sometimes no reasons at all are provided. You just cannot hold a rally, end of story, as was the case in Belgorod.

In St Petersburg, Deputy Governor Serov publicly stated that he did not intend to and would not provide a spot for an opposition rally. This was about Alexei Navalny’s rally, but is there any difference? Neither the Constitution, nor the laws of the Russian Federation say anything about depriving the opposition of its civil rights.

Most often, a cultural or a mass event are cited as a reason for refusal. Usually, such events invariably take place at the same time and in the same place. For example, in Vologda, an art exhibition named Spring Fantasy was announced just in time to coincide with a rally.

Sometimes the local authorities break up authorised rallies like in the village of Selyatino in the Naro-Fominsk district of the Moscow suburbs on October 7, when people protested against the construction of a waste incineration plant. The rally was dispersed by the police under the pretext that a neighbouring school was mined.

It turned out that it was not. There was not even a signal to this effect. We suggest establishing operational and mediation commissions with the participation of the human rights ombudsman at the relevant level for dealing with all issues linked to approvals or coordination. The aim is to have events coordinated in a face-to-face meeting.

During large-scale events, law enforcement should display restraint and resort to force only in response to physical aggression and violence. No shouts or appeals unless these are appeals to direct violence can be considered grounds for detention. There are violations all along the way – from detention to court.

The number of people loaded into buses is double the number of seats in its enclosed section. They are not given water and not allowed to use the toilet. After being delivered to the Directorate of Internal Affairs, detainees have to wait in a cold bus for hours. Attorneys are not allowed to talk to them and they are not granted their mandatory call to their families. Detainees spend up to 48 hours and more in cells that are not designed for long stays.

Courts are a huge problem. The blocking of attorneys and stamped police reports written by different employees with the exact same mistakes are widespread. This is the second attachment, Mr President. There are many such reports in it and you will get the idea. These reports look like school compositions that slacking students copy from each other.

Court hearings based on accusations take several minutes. For instance, 943 administrative cases were reviewed in St Petersburg in two days – June 13 and 14 of this year. Some were done in less than a minute. Unfortunately, this country has an extensive legal practice in this respect.

It is appropriate to recall this today, on the Day of Remembrance of Victims of Political Repression. I have a personal recollection in this context.

A couple of years before Boris Nemtsov was murdered, the justice’s court of Moscow’s Tver District sentenced him to 15 days behind bars for resisting police officials. I was there when this happened on January 2, 2011. I watched the judge – a good-looking woman of about 28, two riot police officers and eyewitnesses. Nemtsov said to them in a cheerful voice, “Guys, you did not detain me.”

They looked down modestly but their testimonies were accepted, unlike the video footage that showed that Nemtsov did not resist. The latter was not accepted and none of his motions were accepted, either. The result was 15 days behind bars. I think our task is to protect the court from profanation, to restore its authority and trust in it.

With regard to mass public actions, our proposals are given on five pages of the report. It makes sense, if we are speaking about first practical steps, to set up a working group to resolve these problems.

But the most important thing, without which all working groups lose their relevance and all our recommendations are rendered useless, is the desire to abandon repressive police tactics, which contradict the spirit and letter of our Constitution. Dissent is not a crime.

The state must not divide society by encouraging a search for enemies, all manner of fifth columns or agents. This is, in the long run, the responsibility of relevant departments and special services. The state must be the guardian of constitutional values, that is, civic freedoms.

Mr President, we were guided precisely by these considerations when we were preparing the report. That is all. Thank you.

But since I spoke little about justice – and it is a very important issue – I would ask you to give the floor to literally two minutes to a specialist in these matters, my colleague Leonid Nikitinsky.

Vladimir Putin: Thank you very much, Mr Svanidze.

You have raised a most important issue – freedom must be guaranteed and I fully agree with you, we need to analyse the evolving practices.

We have to constantly analyse them and make appropriate adjustments. No doubt, this refers to the practices of law-enforcement bodies and the judicial system.

The only thing that I would like to bring to your attention– and both you and I understand and know this – is that, unfortunately, some groups of protesters or the organisers of these actions are intentionally exacerbating the situation in order to attract public attention.

We understand that in the current situation it is enough to create some information space on the internet, in the media and so on in order to announce one’s position or criticise authorities at all levels, from municipal to federal.

I can imagine how the authorities go to any lengths to drive all these actions away from the central parts of the cities, especially large cities. But it is also wrong to try to interfere with the normal course of life in large cities, blocking streets and other places and inciting aggression or encouraging aggressive actions.

It seems to me that we need to work very closely with both sides of this process. Your objective was to draw attention to the work of authorities and the operation of the judicial system. Let us see, and not just see, but also think and do something that our civil society and, ultimately, the whole country and all of its citizens will benefit from.

Thank you very much.

You wanted to say something.

Stanislav Kucher: Yes, Mr President. I would like to say a few words on the issue covered by Ms Alekseyeva and Mr Svanidze. Here is the situation.

I do not have the official statistics, but over the past year, some 20 people just from my circle of friends and friends of my fiends have decided to leave the country. Most of them are young people aged between 20 and 35 years, who are not interested in politics, by and large.

They are young researchers, business people and culture professionals. Why did they make this decision? I talked to some of them, trying to bring them around. They claim that they sense an atmosphere of a cold civil war and spreading obscurantism, which they fear will only grow stronger after the presidential election.

Each particular case, including the arrest of Kirill Serebrennikov, the hysteria around the film Matilda, including larceny and threats, the situation with Ekho Moskvy and, lastly, the attack on Tatyana Felgengauer or the case of Yury Dmitriyev, who is being held in pretrial detention right now – if we look at each of these cases in isolation, we can see the culprits and reasons for prosecuting them.

But taken together this creates the atmosphere of hatred that Ms Alekseyeva spoke about. Taken together, this creates a feeling that a campaign is underway against dissenting opinions, even if this is not true and there is a clear reason in each particular case.

Mr Svanidze spoke about the atmosphere of hatred and persecution of dissenters. There is this feeling, which is encouraging many young people, some of them the best of the best, to flee the country.

You said some very important things about mutual forgiveness and the need to unify society. We will soon mark a historical date – they say it happens every 100 years – the centenary of the October revolution, or the October revolt that split the country and resulted in terrible tragedies.

Today you will attend a ceremony to unveil a monument to the victims of political repression. I believe it is a wonderful opportunity for you as the national leader to address the people and to call for unification, which cannot be done without stopping the cold civil war and the hysteria of hatred that can have dramatic consequences for the authorities, for society and for all of us, as I see it.

I am convinced that your call would be heeded by those concerned, including state television channels, which are playing a major part in fuelling hysteria. I do not know how this should be done, and I understand that you cannot just say, “Let’s stop this criminal persecution”, but I am sure that your call or your message will be heeded.

Now is the ideal moment to pardon political prisoners or at least to revise their criminal cases. I believe this would be extremely beneficial for society and for its unification in this anniversary year.

Vladimir Putin: Thank you very much.

Regarding hysteria, I do not think there is much hysteria around, but there have been some outbursts indeed. But they happen everywhere. Loot at the United States. This is where hysteria is riding high.

Stanislav Kucher: Yes, Mr President, but we live in Russia, and I am concerned about Russia more than about the United States.

Vladimir Putin: With your permission, I would like to finish. That was the first thing I wanted to say.

Second. Look at Europe, with Brexit, Catalonia and whatever else, including terrorism and migrants. That is hysteria. Just look at what is going on there.

But outbursts of hysteria are a normal thing. I do not think they are anything to fear or that we should expect to have a complete lull, which has never happened and never will. As for the need to react to these outbursts, this is where I fully agree with you. We need to reduce the negative consequences of such outbursts as much as possible.

You have mentioned some of them – I will not repeat them now. It may sound strange to you, but I agree with your opinion on some of these cases.

Take Serebrennikov. Is he a politician? Is he being persecuted for taking a political stand? No, it is an unpleasant case of financial abuse. Yes, he is a creative person, an artist. You do not know how many people have appealed to me on his behalf.

What about the deputy director of the Hermitage? Or the deputy minister? By the way, the prosecutor’s office is contesting the court ruling in his case. Should we set all of them free? Let us treat everyone equally.

We have no desire to grab or persecute anyone, but everyone must respect the law regardless of their occupation.

You have mentioned Ekho Moskvy. What does it have to do with this? The culprit is a mental patient, so what does freedom of speech have to do with this case? He came from Israel and attacked this journalist.

Ekho Moskvy is financed by the government– there are no such cases anywhere else in the world. Can you imagine such a radio station in Europe or the United States? Impossible.

Russia Today (RT) and Sputnik are being put on a list that is much more serious than the one we have, with very harsh restrictions imposed on them that are not of the moral or ethical order, but are purely administrative and financial.

This does not mean I disagree with the statement in general, although I do know some people who leave the country. Their number has declined sharply lately. People leaving is not good, but on the other hand, Russia is a free country. There is nothing wrong with moving, with going to work somewhere else, then coming back. Many people are returning now, by the way, including people in the creative professions, and scientists – I regularly meet with them.

I do not want anyone to leave. I think that together, with the help of your recommendations, we will be able to ensure that the most valuable people, those who can achieve the maximum effect in their work, use their potential and achieve personal fulfillment here in Russia.

They should be able to use their potential effectively here. Well, if something hinders that, of course, this is what we are here for. It is our job to figure out what this is.

You mentioned a few things, and I made some notes, but I think you should also understand the arguments I made.

Is there anything else?

Stanislav Kucher: I agree with many, Mr President, to cut it short so everyone has time to speak. Yet, even if that guy was an ordinary psycho, those triggers work faster in every ordinary psycho’s head in an atmosphere of a certain kind.

Vladimir Putin: But he did not even live in Russia! He came from Israel.

Stanislav Kucher: It is in your power to call for that atmosphere to change, Mr President. You can do it.

Vladimir Putin: He is an Israeli citizen, he came from there. What are you talking about?

Stanislav Kucher: That does not matter.

Vladimir Putin: What do you mean, it does not matter? Has he lived in this environment, in this atmosphere as you say, or elsewhere? He lived somewhere else. What does the situation here have to do with it?

Stanislav Kucher: I am talking about what is important, something we are both talking about. I think it is in your power to influence the atmosphere in the country. I think it will be very good if you do.

Vladimir Putin: As far as the general atmosphere is concerned, I think you are right that we should do more about it. I heard your recommendation, and I promise I will think about it. No jokes, no irony, I will think about the best time and situation to do this so that this call is heard by as many people as possible. Thank you.

Mr Bobrov, please, you have the floor.

Yevgeny Bobrov: Mr President,

The Council receives numerous complaints from individuals about the shortcomings plaguing the current industrial and household waste management system.

We held a special meeting dedicated to this topic, as well as several working meetings, including with the participation of international experts. We suggest reforming this branch on the basis of legally established priorities with the participation of the public while taking into account the rights of citizens, to make it civilised.

(Next, Mr Bobrov spoke in detail about landfills and the practice of illegal rubbish dumping, noted the ill-considered location of incineration plants, the absence of hazardous waste collection and of a waste sorting system.)

Mr President, the Council recommends suspending the implementation of the Clean Country priority project in the part related to construction of incineration plants. We suggest refraining from building or launching them until waste sorting and recycling become an established practice.

Instead of building incineration plants, we propose developing alternative projects and building infrastructure for segregated waste collection as well as building recycling facilities for making useful products from waste. It is necessary to raise public awareness about the need for separate waste collection through social advertising and awareness campaigns.

We also recommend that you include indicators on waste sorting and modern waste management infrastructure development in the governors’ efficiency rankings.

It is imperative to create a state non-profit system for monitoring the situation regarding waste accumulation and management, while monitoring these indicators at waste sites, landfills and incineration plants and posting them online for everyone to see.

We recommend making it mandatory for the manufacturers to produce easily recyclable packaging and to accept used items, such as batteries, household appliances, glass, or plastic, for recycling and disposal.

Foods with expiring shelf life, which account for about a third of still usable products, can be quickly made available to the social institutions that need them. Such food is now thrown out.

Despite the fact that land for the construction of the first incinerators has already been allocated, neither the Federal Service for Supervision of Natural Resources, nor the public have been informed about their detailed characteristics or evidence that they are not health-hazardous.

(Mr Bobrov cited specific examples of poorly selected land plots for building incineration plants and stressed the need for public hearings regarding such projects.)

The conclusion is that Russia is faced with a choice: either we learn from the civilised countries’ experience and introduce an efficient waste recycling system, or we continue to burn waste and follow in the footsteps of the European countries and the US, which took 20 years to understand that incinerating waste is a deadlock that prevents recycling.

Thank you for your attention.

Vladimir Putin: Thank you very much.

You said we should learn from the civilised countries’ experience. What is their experience? There are about 1,500 successful waste incineration plants in the world. Some of them are at the heart of Europe’s largest cities such as London, Paris and Berlin.

Even Switzerland, a leader in waste recycling, not incineration, still burns 50 percent of its waste and recycles the other 50 percent. Fifty-fifty – this is their experience for the moment.

Another aspect I would like to single out: you said we should stop building waste incineration plants until we teach the people to sort their rubbish. How can we teach them? How long is it going to take?

You see, this is not an easy task. I admit that only a year ago I thought it could be resolved at the local and regional level. Now I realise that this is not enough and we need efforts at the federal level. Some criticise live conferences but this is the way people can bring these problems to our attention. It is important, and this is why we are now considering this problem at the federal level.

However, it does not mean that I am opposed to your proposals. Not at all. We just need to take a closer look, to consider carefully what you just said. If there is another, more progressive, more environmentally friendly way of waste disposal, better than incineration, we should use it. We will definitely look at it. I promise you.

I fully agree with you that we cannot build these plants and decide on their geographic location without consulting the people who live in the neighbouring areas.

As I said, large European cities have historically had such facilities in direct proximity to residential areas, almost in city centres.

But you are right in saying that we are only beginning to address this issue and therefore we have to be very careful. I will certainly make sure we are.

Thank you a lot for your report.

Mr Borisov, please.

Igor Borisov: Mr President, thank you for giving me the floor.

I have just a few words about the elections. I understand we have a very compressed schedule; Mr Fedotov is ready to hand in a full report with 500 pages of appendices.

For the third consecutive year, we at the Human Rights Council monitoring group have monitored the single voting day. The purpose of our observations is to promote the implementation of the people’s electoral rights. I would like to draw your attention to the legal regulation on our monitoring group, which is perhaps the only regulatory document, which says simply, “Promotion of the implementation of citizens’ electoral rights.”

We can see that even the instructions of the parties that send observers offer no such goal. They contain every other possible reason for observing, from collecting data on violations by the commission to promulgating those violations with official statements to the media. But they say nothing about assisting the electoral system; the monitoring group is the first to do so.

As for the monitoring results, we are observing positive changes in our electoral system in response to society’s demands, which are reflected, among other things, in our reports to the HRC. The procedures for organising elections continue to improve, and objectively we feel that the former distrust (mostly for the Central Election Commission) is fading.

We want this situation to continue expanding to all election commissions (regional, territorial, and local), and this process is gradually moving ahead, as we can see. We would certainly like to speed it up, something we are working on.

Our main conclusion in the run-up to the presidential election is that we do not see any problems for the planned March 2018 election, which will be organised under Russian law and in line with international standards.

But as in any society, there are some people who would like to ascribe negative character to indisputably positive trends, using for this purpose (this is my position) even fake interpreters that try to apply to the electoral system the law of the distribution of apples falling from an apple tree in a bid to explain the election results by various mathematical methods, saying that every electoral district should have the same distribution of votes and blaming the electoral system if this is not the case.

Such patterns exist. We tried to analyse the election of the current US President using the same methods. They do not have normal distribution either, but for some reason nobody is dealing with this issue despite the advanced system and technology in the US.

However, we are reproached for not following the laws of the distribution of the normal fall of apples from an apple tree – they fall on different sides. In other words, we believe this is an impossible attempt to apply a mathematical model to the social behaviour of voters. There are different opinions on the matter and I assume they will be voiced today.

Here are the positive aspects we have noted.

First, Mr President, we have made and submitted to you a consolidated report that was compiled by about 30 various NGOs. We have civil society today in its current form and we have come to common conclusions and have written about 20 recommendations.

Incidentally, I must say that Ms Ella Pamfilova, who heads the Central Election Commission, told us that she has already started implementing the majority of recommendations we mentioned to her, without even waiting for this report. Therefore, our positions on the development of the electoral system coincide and we are very pleased about that.

We have also recorded a steady development of the electoral system. I will repeat that maybe it is not going at the pace we expected but it continues moving forward nonetheless. Urgent issues are resolved through the automation of this process: the use of QR-codes, the opportunity to vote at a location without absentee ballots, and video monitoring that was first introduced at your initiative in 2012 and is being developed. We believe it should be developed and it makes sense to install video cameras at the commission.

Notably, the trend of not removing observers from polling stations has taken root. However, most of the lawyers who have evaluated this regulation believe that it is non-applicable altogether.

During the recent elections there were two instances of removal with only one done in line with the procedure established by the law, i.e., through court. Therefore, we need to think about it and decide whether to actually apply this regulation or repeal it altogether. I am referring to the practice of removing observers from polling stations.

Of course, our report does not claim that our electoral system has become perfect. There were certain procedural violations, and we noted them as well.

Nevertheless, we are saying that the procedural violations noted by our council’s monitoring group did not affect individual electoral rights. That is, we have not observed any incidents to this effect.

There are issues and certain challenges that the electoral system is faced with, which we have also seen and noted in our report.

To reiterate, first, video broadcasting is mandatory. We also note the need to regulate the use of video traffic that comes from polling stations.

Today, this traffic is not regulated. However, in accordance with part three of Article 17 of the Constitution, the exercise of the rights and freedoms of a person and citizen must not violate the rights and freedoms of other individuals.

According to our data — I made inquiries with relevant organisations — please note that 950,000 viewings as of September 10, almost a million, were initiated from international IP addresses.

The question is why are such vast numbers of people interested in watching our elections and recording the voters? How could this be further used in light of today’s technology?

My personal concern is that the images of my fellow citizens end up in the wrong hands, and it is unclear how and for what purposes they will remain there.

Moreover, I am aware of at least one instance where a voter simply refused to go to the polls saying that the place was equipped with video cameras. To reiterate, this is an isolated instance. Still, we can assume that such challenges might be used by those who want to thwart the turnout. For example, they could post online warnings to those who do not want to be in the spotlight with their image ending up in someone's hands, like ”Do not go to the polls; cameras are watching.“

Second, we note the municipal filter’s faulty operation. Clearly, this norm will not apply to the March elections, but we also mention in our report that it needs to be further discussed and finalised. I suppose that the working group in your Executive Office, Mr President, will continue to work on this issue with our participation following the March elections.

Cases of abusing the law have not been eradicated, including during the most recent September 10 elections. Some of them call for amending the law. (Mr Bobrov enumerated some of these issues, such as abuses of the rights of observers and media representatives, as well as anonymity of online complaints about violations during elections.)

The proposals that I would like to draw your attention to are also included in the report.

It is imperative to include public monitoring during elections on the list of activities of socially-oriented non-profit organisations. The issue is simple here: if a country is unwilling to feed its observers, another country will. We are all aware of such instances.

We also suggest that the Interior Ministry and the CEC, in conjunction with our Council, develop more detailed instructions for the police, specifying their rights and duties at the polling stations, in order to avoid provocations.

Mr President, in closing, I would like to say that history moves in a spiral, and we must always learn from our mistakes. Currently, in Russia, ”the matter of prime importance is the emergence of independent forces in society, which would set themselves the task of protecting order and counteracting reckless demands and anarchic fermentation of the minds.“

These are not my words. Boris Chicherin, who was a leading Russian jurist and one of the founders of constitutional law, spoke them over 100 years ago. Today, 100 years later, is probably the right time to recall these words, which he spoke on the eve of the revolutionary events that marked the first two decades of the 20th century in our country.

Also, Mr President, in closing, I would like to hand you two notes covering what I have just said for further study and possible decision making.

Vladimir Putin: Mr Borisov, I will not go into detail.

Obviously, the work that you and your colleagues are doing is extremely important for civil society, for the state, for all citizens, because the relationship between society and government depends on this; trust in society must be rooted in this, or there can be none.

Therefore, I will not go into detail, but my colleagues and I will certainly look at the results of your work. This is also an occasion to once again turn to the current legislation, to law enforcement practice and to administrative procedures. All this will be analysed.

As for recognising organisations that observe elections as socially-oriented non-profits, it is possible to do this, but not those which are financed from abroad. And the method of financing does not matter: whether these are direct transfers or cash.

If they are financed, they cannot be recognised as socially oriented, because they are oriented towards the interests of another state, if they work in the political sphere. On the whole, I think that everyone is interested in having this type of civic activity based on a solid foundation so it can make its significant contribution to strengthening Russia’s statehood.

As for the fact that images of our citizens and voters are collected by someone and used somehow… It is not that bad, but do you know that biological material is collected all over the country, from different ethnic groups and people living in different geographical locations of Russia? But what for?

They do it purposefully and professionally. We are an object of very great interest. Therefore, what I said in the first part and this is all interconnected. We need to treat it without fear. Let them do it, and we must do what we must. Taking into account your comments, we will arrange this work.

Colleagues, we still have several minutes. So, if someone wants to add something, please, go ahead.

Maxim Shevchenko: Mr President, thank you very much for this opportunity.

You are absolutely right. Russia is a free country and the public discourse here is among the freest and most wide-ranging. I have been to many countries. The passions that run high around these debates are a testament to one’s internal freedom and desire to speak up.

I would like to touch upon one topic that is very popular among young people – the blogosphere. YouTube is developing at a crazy rate and the blogosphere is a manifestation of the carnival-like, free culture of criticism and mockery aimed at those in power and the wealthy, which is traditional for the Russian people as well.

There was recently an egregious case where guys from Kemerovo that are very popular on the internet ridiculed one oligarch. A task force flew from Moscow to Kemerovo, broke into their premises and took their equipment.

It would seem that even if this is a civilian suit and someone is aggrieved, usually an inquiry is made on site or some instruction is issued. I believe this egregious case should be properly assessed. It is important to guarantee people the freedom to speak up, joke, criticise and be Russian citizens in full measure, as guaranteed by the Constitution.

And the second aspect that I cannot fail to mention concerns the rights of inmates in today’s prisons. I would like to recall those who are, regrettably, among the most disenfranchised inmates – Muslims. Every arrested Muslim immediately receives a black mark that says he is almost a terrorist, a member of ISIS, and it is possible to do anything with him.

Human rights organisations do not protect Muslims well enough, and the term “political prisoners” is applied to activists who were detained for 20 to 30 days rather than those who have been sentenced to long prison terms. There is much evidence – I can forward it to the Presidential Executive Office so as not to take up your time now – much evidence that people are not allowed to pray, they are forced to eat pork and have their beards shaved off.

The latest outrageous example is the case of an imam from Khasavyurt, the father of seven who has been sent to a penal colony settlement. Under the article in question, he should not be sent more than 400 kilometres away from the crime scene, but this man has been transferred from Khasavyurt to Omsk.

He cannot take care of his seven children, he has been shaved and before the human rights activists interfered, he could not pray or ritualise, even though this is not a high-security prison. I know that you are a merciful person who has always upheld human rights and constitutional principles. I am asking you to take note of these two problems.

Thank you very much, Mr President.

Vladimir Putin: I will need the materials.

Maxim Shevchenko: Of course, I handed them over.

Vladimir Putin: Ok. Both these issues need our additional attention. The first case you mentioned is a complete disgrace. If a task force is sent to deal with a personal disagreement, this may mean that law enforcement officers are at the oligarchs’ beck and call. We need to do something about this, but I do not know the details of this case. We will certainly act on this.

Alexander Brod: Mr President, I have sent you a briefing note, Discrimination against Russian Citizens Abroad. We analysed the situation over the past five years and concluded that Russian citizens have been detained, arrested or deported illegally, that their rights in detention places abroad were grossly violated, and that Russian diplomats, public figures, human rights activists and journalists have been persecuted for doing their professional duties. The paper includes a long list of such glaring facts.

So, the recommendations are the following: to create, maybe at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation, a working group that would comprise representatives from the relevant NGOs, as well as lawyers to monitor the facts of discrimination against Russian citizens abroad and propose mechanisms for a legal response and for protection in such cases. We also need to consider methods to support the NGOs that provide legal assistance to Russian citizens abroad and to promote the development of these NGOs’ international activities, including at the UN, the Council of Europe and the OSCE. These NGOs also need to more actively promote contact with partner NGOs and the legal community in foreign countries so as to enhance the effectiveness of legal protection for Russian citizens abroad.

Vladimir Putin: To cut a long story short, I think this is a good idea. I believe that this could be even more effective than the administrative measures taken by the Foreign Ministry in such cases.


Lilia Shibanova: Thank you for this opportunity.

Mr Borisov talked about elections, but he mostly expressed his own opinion. What can I add in this regard?

In our report, we point out that the main problem at elections is the declining, or more precisely, plummeting voter turnout. The voter turnout of 32 percent at the recent gubernatorial election is considered high.

This is an issue of the biggest concern to society. We are losing the institution of elections because people are not using this tool.

What are the reasons for this? We believe the main reason is minimal competition. The second reason is, definitely, declining public trust in election results. As for decreasing competition, there are many issues that need to be discussed.

These include the revival of electoral blocs for small parties, because the vast number of registered parties cannot take part in elections due to unequal terms compared to the parliamentary parties, which enjoy certain privileges. Electoral blocs were stipulated in past legislation. We believe we should revive this system.

Restoring minimum voter turnout requirements that used to be stipulated by law would also make sense with a 25 percent threshold for local elections and a 50 percent voter turnout requirement for federal elections. This would provide a major impetus to all government agencies to promote the elections. What we saw in Moscow was an attempt to lower voter turnout. The same is taking place in a number of other regions. In fact, only core voters were mobilised while the rest were not even aware of the elections.

There is another issue that you can resolve in no time at all. It is a controversial issue, and there has been a lot of talk about it recently within the election commission. I am talking about video monitoring. It was introduced in the last elections, which was a breakthrough that deserves credit, because with 100,000 polling stations, there was no way to monitor the process in a regular way everywhere.

There is no doubt that video monitoring is a unique tool for understanding what happened on election day and for preventing any speculation. Moreover, this unique tool should not only be used for recording how the vote proceeds, but also for analysing afterwards what was actually going on at the polling stations.

You may remember that last time presidential elections in Astrakhan coincided with the election of the region’s governor, and Mr Shein went on a 40-day hunger strike to obtain video footage and analyse it. There was even a documentary, Hunger Strike in Astrakhan, which can still be found online. Being able to obtain footage after the election is a matter of principle for us, since it would enable us to, number one, analyse what happened and, number two, use footage as evidence in court, so that it can be accepted as such in claims alleging electoral fraud.

This is a major issue. A special hearing was held to showcase our findings for one of St Petersburg’s districts, where one hundred people were involved in carousel voting, meaning that they voted multiple times at various polling stations. The materials were analysed and photo images and video footage were sent to court, which refused to accept it. This is a major issue.

The second important issue for us is election monitoring by non-governmental organisations. Mr Borisov was expressing his personal point of view and no one else’s when he proposed restoring civic chambers in their right to monitor elections. No, this right should be restored for non-governmental organisations in general.

What we want is for election monitoring to be a public, not political, process, which means that specialised non-governmental organisations focused on protecting electoral rights should be the ones to be granted this right. This is the main safeguard against fraud.

Of course, there is no way this issue can be resolved by monitors alone, as I said one year ago. Mr President, you also highlighted this point back then. I would like to raise this issue once again. Apart from election monitors, we need to ensure that election commissions are independent from the executive branch. There used to be a legal provision whereby not more than 25 percent of election commission members could represent the executive. Now we have 50 percent.

Despite Ms Pamfilova’s efforts to address this issue, despite her attempts to use her own methods to change the balance of power within election commissions, it would be better to deal with this situation through legislation. Making sure that election commissions are independent would solve this major issue.

I will finish here, because I understand that everyone here has a lot of things to share.

Vladimir Putin: I am sorry, Mr Fedotov is telling me that we have an event outside, and that people are already waiting for us. Unfortunately, we will have to finish this meeting. I beg for your understanding, but we really need to end it here.

However, I would like to respond very briefly to Ms Shibanova. The points she raised are of course all very important. The drop in the voter turnout is a serious issue. That said, it is not happening just in Russia, but everywhere, unless there is some kind of an upsurge due to a specific political context. Voter turnout in Russia is comparable to other countries.

This does not mean, however, that we should sit back and do nothing. I agree with Ms Shibanova in that we need to work with people to show them that elections matter at any level. We must also ensure competition as a way of making people more interested. This is not just about getting people interested, but about electing better representatives who would be more effective in fulfilling people’s aspirations. This is what matters the most.

As for practical matters, such as the revival or creation of blocs, I do not know that the legislation stipulated them. But of course, we need to seriously consider this matter, to weigh all the pros and cons. You believe that party blocs should be reintroduced, but you also said that this issue should be put up for discussion. So, let us discuss it, and let those who consider this idea inexpedient have their say as well.

We must look how this can help our political system. Will it just increase the amount of idle talk, or will it allow people who represent the minority to receive a place in government, where they will put forth their views and otherwise keep the authorities moving at all levels, from the municipal level to the very top. But we need to seriously consider all the possible consequences.

The same is true about the idea that public organisations should be able to nominate observers. On the one hand, this sounds like a good idea, and I would support it, honestly. But we also need to discuss this with political parties, so as to understand their views on this matter.

As for the video recording of elections, I did not know that somebody requested to see the records and then went on a hunger strike when his request was denied. Frankly, this information has not reached me, for some reason, because it was I who had proposed video monitoring. But I believed that it would be streamed online, and that these records can be stored forever. I do not understand the essence of the problem.

Remark: The courts do not accept these records.

Vladimir Putin: The courts do not accept them? I see. All right, we will have to think about this. Frankly, I did not imagine this could happen. I believed that video streaming can be recorded and that anyone will be able to store or use these records. I see what you mean. Honestly, this is completely unexpected. We will certainly analyse this problem.

Thank you.

Colleagues, I am sorry but we need to go now, for it is very cold. We will meet in December next time, or as Mr Fedotov said, next year. We will not procrastinate. I believe our meetings are very useful. Thank you very much.

I take it that we are headed for the memorial unveiling ceremony now. I am not saying good-bye, because we will meet again very soon.

October 30, 2017, The Kremlin, Moscow