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Meeting of Russian Geographical Society Board of Trustees

April 14, 2021, The Kremlin, Moscow

Vladimir Putin attended a meeting of the Board of Trustees of the Russian Geographical Society (RGO) via videoconference.

The participants reviewed the RGO’s performance in 2020, mapped out the main areas of activity for the short term, and presented the most significant and outstanding expedition and research projects for 2021.

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Excerpts from transcript of Russian Geographical Society (RGS) Board of Trustees meeting

President of Russia Vladimir Putin: Friends, good afternoon.

I listened to your discussion; it was interesting. Let me join you now.

Last year, for obvious reasons, we could not hold the traditional meeting of the RGO Board of Trustees.

Unfortunately, the pandemic and the indispensable restrictions and sanitary precautions it necessitated coincided with the 175th anniversary of the Russian Geographical Society, marked in 2020. Still, I would like to emphasise that against all odds the geographical society tried to do as much as possible and fulfil its extensive programme planned for that important and significant year, and on the whole, continued its work without interruption.

Members of the Russian Geographical Society have been part of the volunteer movement and joined mutual assistance events, which are of special importance now that we are all facing a common threat. At the same time, in this difficult period for our entire country, the Russian Geographical Society is continuing to implement its plans and ideas. You have not postponed any expeditions, any field research; you have continued to publish books and make films. Very interesting books and films, in fact. I would also like to note the educational initiatives implemented by the RGO, including online projects.

The last meeting of the Russian Geographical Society was also held online. Its participants discussed and adopted all the decisions that were necessary for further development. In particular, they elected leaders to manage specific areas of RGO work for the next five years.

I congratulate all our colleagues who have received the support of the congress, and of course, Mr Shoigu on his re-election as president of the RGO. Wishing you all good luck and success.

The Russian Geographical Society has everything it needs to implement its ambitious plans. It has tens of thousands of well-educated and energetic researchers, travellers and scientists. It has a very good reputation in Russia and the rest of the world. And it also has actual and quite considerable assistance from the Board of Trustees and the Media Council.

Colleagues, I would like to mention your invariably partial attitude to the Russian Geographical Society and your involvement in its activities. A great number of scientific achievements and brilliant initiatives, which have become a reality over a period of the past few years, were implemented thanks to you and your backing. The support you are providing is sincere and heartfelt. It is based on a thorough understanding of the importance of the activities of the RGO and its enthusiastic members for the country and society.

I believe that it is also important that the RGO continues providing venues for our meetings, festivals and onsite events, which are always interesting and educational.

I do hope that today your agenda will be ambitious as well. Our colleagues will speak about their nature protection and research programmes and their implementation. And they will also present their new projects.

I have no doubt that the reports about many of the programmes that have already been implemented will be published in Vokrug Sveta, an iconic magazine, one of the oldest in Russia, which will mark its 160th anniversary this year. I would like to congratulate the magazine’s staff and faithful readers on this occasion.

A member of the Board of Trustees also has his birthday today, although he is not as old as the magazine. It is Viktor Vekselberg. Mr Vekselberg, I would like to wish you a happy birthday and all the very best, personally and on behalf of our colleagues.

Viktor Vekselberg: Thank you very much.

Vladimir Putin: Before the COVID shutdown, we had a good tradition of meeting during the holidays, usually in summer, in places where the RGO held events with your assistance. Of course, this would be difficult or even impossible to do at present, during the pandemic. But I hope that the pandemic will recede soon, partly due to the vaccination that we are conducting energetically throughout the country. I would like to reveal to you that I received my second jab just a little while ago, before entering this very room. I hope everything goes well. No, it is more than hope – I am sure that this is how it will be. I wish the same to all of you. I expect you to do the same, to follow my example if you care for yourselves and your dear ones.

Let us get down to work.


Vladimir Putin: (commenting on the speech by Deputy Director of the Museum and Exhibition Centre for the Technical and Technological Exploration of the Arctic Pavel Filin on the study of historical sites along the entire Northern Sea Route and his proposal to organise state protection of underwater objects, including sunken ships) Indeed, this is a problem requiring a solution. It is of a historical, scholarly (in the broadest sense of the word) and memorial nature because during the Great Patriotic War the Soviet fleet lost many ships in the hostilities. I believe we lost about 900 warships and 1,700–1,800 support, marine and fishing vessels. Many ships and submarines sank with their crews and in line with the marine tradition, these are their final resting places, the graves of the sailors. The majority of these vessels have not been found at all. Nobody knows where they sank. This involves a great deal of meticulous work. It is necessary to determine the location of these areas, establish procedures for surveys, and research and draft rules and regulations for underwater tourism at sea, and so on.

Thank you for paying attention to this. We will deal with this; it will be necessary to take a closer look at it. I would like to ask the Government and State Duma deputies to work on this issue and adopt relevant legally executed regulations as soon as possible.


Vladimir Putin: (commenting on the remarks by Frederik Dag Arfst Paulsen, Chairman of the Board of Directors of Ferring Pharmaceuticals LLC, founder of Paulsen Publishing House, and member of the Board of Trustees of the Russian Geographical Society, who put forward several proposals regarding Arctic research) I certainly support what was just said. Indeed, Russia will chair the Arctic Council this year, starting in May, I believe. By the way, I spoke about the Arctic Council’s activities with my Finnish colleague, the President of Finland, yesterday. Despite all the challenges facing us in the international arena, the study of the Arctic and our attention to the Arctic remain unchanged.

The six countries on the Arctic Council are cooperating closely. The proposals that we have just heard are, without a doubt, interesting. The year 2022 will mark an anniversary of the first Soviet Arctic station that operated there. Of course, the Arctic is of interest not only to the Arctic Council countries, because planetary climate change is particularly salient there. Therefore, Arctic research is of interest to all humankind, without any doubt. This is my first point.

Secondly, we have embarked on a path of extensive economic development of the Arctic, including the Northern Sea Route and related traffic. I discussed this matter with some of our colleagues yesterday as well. Russia is building the world's most powerful icebreaker fleet, including giants such as the Leader Project series icebreakers, which are unparalleled. To reiterate, yesterday we said that traffic along the Northern Sea Route may become year-round in the near future, within the next few years, and this will most likely be the case.

All of this, including climate change, the consequences of which no one can fully understand and which are impossible to predict with any level of accuracy, is important for the entire planet and for our country, because whole cities were built north of the Arctic Circle during Soviet times, and people live there. If permafrost continues to melt, we need to understand what we should do about it.

In general, from very many points of view, the study of the Arctic is of great importance for both Russia and the entire world. Of course, we will continue to work on it. I will ask my colleagues from the Government to work through your proposals and to make appropriate decisions. I invite you and your colleagues to attend a forum on Arctic research, which will be held as part of our Arctic Council chairmanship. I look forward to you taking part in its work.


Vladimir Putin: (commenting on remarks by Bernard LOONEY, CEO of the BP Group and member of the Board of Trustees of the Russian Geographical Society, who spoke about RGO’s educational project – the Floating University of the Volga Basin expedition of the Volga State University of Water Transport – which is related, in particular, to the climate and environmental agenda) Thank you for your remarks and for being part of the Russian Geographical Society’s activities.

Of course, striving for carbon neutrality is an excellent and noble goal, and I know that your company is paying a lot of attention to it and is investing much in related research. I am also aware that your cooperation with Rosneft is very successful, and your company’s capitalisation, considering the reserves that continue to grow, including in Russia, has positive values.

For my part, I can say that we are satisfied with our cooperation, and the fact that you consider it possible to take part in environmental projects, such as doing research on the Volga River and maintaining its environmental condition, is very important to us. It is a rather sensitive matter, because the Volga is not just a river and it is not just about shipping or economic activity, which is also important, and we have been doing more in this department lately than before, but the Volga is special for Russia, since it is a state-forming element for our country.

Therefore, we strongly hope that your contribution to our joint efforts to preserve the Volga, in the broadest sense of the word, will be tangible, and I want to thank you for that, the more so as you are doing this in conjunction with a Russian university and helping to involve young people, young researchers in this work. This is very important. Thank you very much.


Vladimir Putin: (commenting on the remarks by Sergei Katkov, head of research and field projects at the Modern History Research Centre, regarding an expedition scheduled for next summer to explore airfields of the legendary Alsib Trace, the Soviet portion of the air route used to deliver Lend-Lease aircraft from the allies in the anti-Hitler coalition). I can and must quote the opinion of those who forged the Soviet Union’s victory in the Great Patriotic War. Marshal Zhukov was one of the key figures. If memory serves, he did say that if it had not been for the lend-lease supplies, we would have had to fight for another year or two. This would have meant more casualties, more loss of life, more destruction and so on.

Indeed, even during World War II our soldiers, as we know from Soviet literature and films, called American canned meat “the Second Front.” Speaking of canned meat, lend-lease supplies met 80 percent of our needs. We must give credit where credit is due, it was quite a bit.

However, it was not just about food. Do you know what mattered most? Metal. Metal supplies were very important for our defence industry. Other supplies also played a big role for us, such as combat hardware sent directly, automobiles, train carriages and aircraft.

The route you mentioned was certainly unique because the pilots had to fly the aircraft over in very hard conditions. American pilots used to say that only suicidal people and Russians could fly in such conditions. This was heroic work and a heroic page in the history of the Great Patriotic War. To be honest, few people know about it.

The fact that you are working on it is very important. I would like to thank you for this. In general, these lend-lease supplies and the opening of the Second Front later on obviously played a major role in defeating our common adversary, our common enemy – Nazism. True, these supplies were not free: in 1990, after a meeting of the Soviet and US presidents, we signed an agreement under which the USSR had to pay the remainder of the money due for land-lease supplies by 2030. Russia paid everything due to the United States in 2006. The matter is closed. These were interstate relations and they were both strategic and commercial in nature.

However, there is one aspect I would like to draw special attention to. I am referring to the people who did this. You said now you are exploring this air route for combat aircraft flown over from Alaska. However, there were also other routes, such as northern sea routes and some other directions. What do I think should be emphasised? We treat these people as heroes because they are heroes without any exaggeration. They risked their lives and many of them perished, and so we treat them just like our own veterans of the Great Patriotic War of the Soviet Union and Russia. I would like to say again that we consider them heroes and they will remain heroes in our hearts forever.


Vladimir Putin: I would like to thank Mr Shoigu and all our colleagues, friends, comrades-in-arms, and like-minded people for what you are doing. You are doing a very important and interesting job. And if it is not interesting in some way, it is up to you and me to make it not only a highly sought-after, but also an exciting and captivating job. I really count on this, and I know that you are enthusiasts and top performers who have already achieved or are in the process of achieving outstanding results in the areas that you engage in professionally. And if you engage in tackling the challenges facing the Russian Geographical Society, you are also enthusiasts. I strongly hope that this enthusiasm – which is very useful and, I will say it again, exciting – will be the kind of guiding light that will lead us all to our common goal, which is to preserve nature and to encourage millions of people to connect with nature.

I think that achievements in this area will bring you satisfaction and a sense of self-realisation and self-fulfillment. This is an area in which self-fulfilment and self-empowerment will project onto tens of thousands, and perhaps, given the size of our projects, millions of people.

Once again, I would like to thank you and wish you all the best. Hopefully, I will see you in the summer. Please get ready for that meeting, too, so that we will not only sit down and have lunch, but also be able to tell each other about what has been done, and the goals and objectives that we must achieve and fulfil in the near future.

Thank you very much.

April 14, 2021, The Kremlin, Moscow