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Russian Popular Front’s interregional forum

October 26, 2016, Yalta

Vladimir Putin took part in the plenary session of the interregional forum Action Forum. Crimea, organised by the Russian Popular Front (ONF).

Main themes on the agenda include the energy sector, gas supplies, developing Crimea’s agriculture sector and tourism potential, improving access to education, quality of service in the housing and utilities sector, environmental issues, and preserving cultural heritage sites.

Around 350 people have been invited to take part in the discussions, including civil society activists from Crimea and Sevastopol, experts, and representatives of professional communities: doctors, teachers, agriculture sector workers, scientists and businesspeople.

Action Forum. Crimea, which is taking in Yalta, is the third in a series of interregional forums the Russian Popular Front is organising this year. Earlier in the year, implementation of the presidential executive orders of May 2012 in the regions was discussed at meetings in Stavropol and Yoshkar-Ola.

* * *

President of Russia Vladimir Putin: Good afternoon, friends and thank you very much for the applause.

This is the Russian Popular Front’s third interregional forum this year. You held meetings earlier in Yoshkar-Ola and in Stavropol, and now we have this event here in Crimea.

We know how many active and engaged people there are in Crimea and Sevastopol, people who take an active stand and are genuinely involved in the fate of their region and the fate of Russia as a whole. The best evidence of this was the events of spring 2014, when people took their future into their own hands and decided themselves how and where they want to live.

Since then, hard and wide-ranging work has been carried out to integrate Crimea and Sevastopol into Russia’s common legal, economic and social space. This has turned out to be a far from straightforward task.

In very rapid time, we have resolved the problem of the energy and water supply blockades the peninsula was subjected to, and we are making good progress on building the bridge across the Kerch Strait. I hope that the approach roads to the bridge and all of the support infrastructure will be of a high standard and completed on time.

The engaged and active stand taken by the people of Crimea and Sevastopol themselves and their energy and sense of purpose have played a big part in implementing these projects and resolving other pressing tasks. It is not by chance that the Russian Popular Front (ONF) has provided useful mechanisms here. The ONF was the first public organisation to come to Crimea after the referendum took place.

As I said, much work has been accomplished, but we realise that this still far from enough. Many problems have yet to be resolved, which is understandable, all the more so as many of these problems have accumulated over years, if not decades.

We must focus first, of course, on the most pressing issues for the people here, problems such as modernising social infrastructure, upgrading the transport sector, and creating new jobs. At the same time, we must ensure competent distribution of financial resources and make sure that the money invested brings maximum returns.

It is also extremely important to listen to people’s views, understand which issues are of greatest concern in their eyes and obtain feedback. No regional development effort can be truly effective without this.

I hope very much that the ONF activists will continue to monitor and analyse the problems of greatest concern to people here and formulate concrete proposals to improve the situation. This work is tremendously important, needed and useful because it has a direct impact on people’s quality of everyday life.

Friends, the ONF’s previous forums show that these meetings offer the chance not just to exchange views on this or that problem, but also to come up with solutions of real substance. We see that this practice of direct dialogue works and produces results.

I know that you have discussed many pressing matters during this forum and have put forward various proposals on how to resolve these issues. I hope very much that we will be frank with each other in this part of our work together, examine the serious matters that you discussed among yourselves, and find the solutions people need.

Thank you very much for your attention.

Co-chairman of the ONF Central Headquarters Stanislav Govorukhin: Colleagues, let’s start work.

As always, this forum takes place over two days. Yesterday, the different sections discussed the most urgent problems. Today, we will present to our leader, President Putin, our solutions to the issues that require the government’s involvement.

I have two co-chairs today: Yelizaveta Tsokur, coordinator of Sevastopol’s 70th Anniversary of Victory volunteer corps, and Boris Levin, head doctor at the local hospital in Kolchugino, Simferopol District, journalist and winner of the Golden Pen of Russia prize.

Mr Levin, could you begin.

Boris Levin: Hello,Mr President,

Here in Crimea, we followed very closely the interregional forums you mentioned, in Stavropol and Yoshkar-Ola, and we noted not only their great significance, but also their effectiveness, which is what we Crimeans have been striving for over these last two-and-a-half years.

We see that real positive changes are taking place in our life. The overwhelming majority of people here support your initiatives and all that has happened here over these last two-and-a-half years. But there are still issues that we are justified in bringing before you here at this event, Action Forum. Crimea, in the great hope that solutions will be found.

Yelizaveta Tsokur: Hello, Mr President.

Yesterday, we discussed issues of real importance for developing Crimea and Sevastopol. They include developing the agriculture sector and the economy, education and culture. If you permit, I would like to turn to our proposals on these issues.

Vladimir Putin: Of course.

Yelizaveta Tsokur: 2018 will be a very important year for the Republic of Crimea because it will see the opening of the bridge across the Kerch Strait, and this will, of course, bring with it a big increase in the number of tourists, especially tourists coming by car. But frankly speaking, the roadside infrastructure leaves a lot to be desired here. I want to give the floor to entrepreneur and ONF activist Ivan Komelov.

Ivan Komelov: Hello, Mr President,

Ivan Komelov from Sevastopol.

At one of the sections yesterday, we discussed the question of developing roadside infrastructure. We all know that this year, we already had more than a million cars arriving in Crimea. Once the bridge opens, this number will increase greatly and the support infrastructure issue will become a serious problem.

You devote much attention to developing Crimea and Sevastopol. In particular, there is the construction of the Tavrida federal highway and the bridge. But we are concerned by reports that the exit road from the four-lane bridge will be a two-lane road, and that some of the stretches of the Tavrida highway to be opened in 2018 will also be two lanes only. This will create bottlenecks and could become a problem.

As concerns infrastructure, I want to draw to your attention that neither the federal targeted programme nor the Tavrida project currently make provisions for roadside infrastructure facilities. It would be very good to get the project planners to make provisions for these facilities too, all the more so as businesspeople in Sevastopol and Crimea are ready to organise the necessary tourism infrastructure and services, and have the experience to do so, but this has to be done within the project framework and in compliance with safety and quality standards.

It would be wonderful then if you could instruct the project planners to give this matter their attention too. We would be very grateful. Thank you.

Vladimir Putin: I saw these reports in the press and I know that TV channels reported that a bottleneck could develop when the four-lane bridge became a two-lane road.

The project calls for four lanes, but two lanes will be opened in the first stage. This is being done so as not to close anything off to traffic entirely. We will try to move ahead as fast as possible with this work. The plan is to build two completely new lanes, and traffic will continue on the two-lane road for now. Later, the current road will be completely overhauled. We will have what is effectively a new road on this corridor, but the old road will continue working while the real new road is built. Once the new road is completed, we will start work on the old one, which will effectively become a new road too. The end result will be a four-lane road, just like the bridge.

The preliminary estimates show that there will indeed be a big increase. The bridge to Crimea is expected to bring in around 14 million tourists and around 13 million vehicles (there will also be the trains crossing in both directions). This issue was therefore taken into account. To be honest, the initial plan was to build a two-lane bridge, but in the end, I persuaded my colleagues that this was a case when we should plan for future increases, and I am sure that this will be needed.

It was the same situation in Vladivostok. Everyone said that the city did not need such a big airport as the one that was built there, nor did they need those roads that were built, nor the railway link connecting the airport to the city centre. They said that none of this would be needed once the APEC summit was over. But this is absolutely not the case. It turned out that Vladivostok soon became a transport hub and many passengers now use it as a transit point for journeys to other countries. The facilities are in use and there is demand for them. It will be the same case here; I have no doubts at all on this.

As for roadside infrastructure, this is a very important part of the work and I think that this should be taken into account and be included in the plans for developing the road network. If this is not the case, of course we will draw this to the project planners’ attention. Our colleagues are here and are listening. All that is said today will be noted in the minutes and passed on to the Transport Ministry. Mr Aksyonov [Head of the Republic of Crimea] is also here, listening and taking note.

But I think that this is perhaps still insufficient. I think there is something else we should reflect on. I would be ready to help local business to carry out this work. This would require a programme for developing roadside infrastructure, construction of petrol stations, cafes, restaurants and so forth. Of course, our unchanging position is that this is a matter solely for the businesspeople themselves. You get a site and the infrastructure support, and the rest is up to you. We could certainly look into the possibility of additional subsidies for carrying out these projects, but we would need to get an idea of the potential sums involved and the areas of work, so that this money does not just disappear somewhere but goes towards concrete projects.

Look into it together with your colleagues. I ask Mr Aksyonov to look into it because this is a matter for the regional authorities. Put together a programme and I will try to help with organising the financing. We will look for funding sources.

Yelizaveta Tsokur: Mr President, if you permit, I will continue with the Kerch Strait bridge’s construction, which is very important for us. I want to give the floor to Maya Khuzhina to continue on this subject.

Maya Khuzhina: Good afternoon.

I was born, grew up, live and work in the city of Kerch, and this town and its problems are constantly on my mind. Our town was in a dead-end situation at one point, but today, we are pressing ahead rapidly with this incredible project to build this enormous bridge across the Kerch Strait.

What worries city residents now, especially those who live in the bridge’s construction zone, is the question of resettlement. There were plans to move these people into new homes on October 31. The people concerned are still living in their old homes and the builders are 46 days behind schedule. The subcontractor company is not meeting its obligations and the building work does not measure up to state standards. Thus, obligations are being broken both in terms of quality and timeframe.

The city residents, especially the people due for resettlement, are very concerned about what is happening and ask you, Mr President, to take personal control over the construction of their new homes so that this problem does not cast a shadow on the grandiose and long-awaited event we are all looking forward to. Thank you.

Vladimir Putin: I am aware of this problem. Mr Aksyonov briefed me on the situation last time I was in Kerch. He asked me then if it was alright if he did not go to see me off, and I said that of course it was alright. “I have to go urgently to meet with the people,” he said then. It was precisely on this matter that he was going to meet with them.

Regarding the quality, pace and timetable of the work the subcontractors are supposed to respect, the regional authorities must keep close watch on this, of course. As far as I know, financing is going ahead without disruption. It is the federal authorities’ responsibility to ensure timely financing. Mr Aksyonov has confirmed that there are no problems and no holdups with the financing for this programme.

The question is one of getting those who are performing the work to respect the quality standards and deadlines. Mr Aksyonov is keeping this situation under control. If action is required from the federal authorities we will do this, but you realise that we cannot stand there ourselves and keep daily watch on the situation. The local authorities can do this, the local and regional authorities.

I can recommend to Mr Aksyonov that he have cameras installed and have them working so he can follow what is happening online from his office.

I certainly hope that all will be completed on time and meet the quality standards. Of course, we need quality control, I agree with you here. We need to monitor the work closely. A set amount of money per square metre of housing was agreed on, and we need to make sure that the completed housing matches the investments made. I will take a closer look at the issue, but I do hope very much that the people will be happy with their new homes.

We encountered a similar problem, perhaps even far more serious, in Sochi when we were getting ready for the Olympics. There were many problems and issues that came up there too, and people had a great many concerns. In the end, though, people got, to be honest – and I think they would agree too, many of them, at least – new housing of a quality that they never had before and were unlikely to have obtained were it not for the Olympic project and the resettlements it entailed.

I certainly hope that in this case too everything will be of the highest level and quality, and completed on time. Let’s wait and see, and we will monitor this together with the local authorities. In any event, this work will be properly completed and there should be no doubt about this.

Boris Levin: After the historic events of March 2014, the people here encountered many complicated issues. They did not hide these issues and knew very well your position on addressing these matters. This was very important for people here. I know this not by hearsay, but as a reporter for Rossiya Segodnya information agency. We are in constant contact with our listeners in our work.

There were some important milestones in integrating Crimea into the common Russian space. The initial stages were difficult, but gradually, many questions were settled. One very important issue that is in the process of being settled now is the establishment of multipurpose centres. On behalf of our many thousands of listeners, I say a big thank you for this.

Alexei Volkov will continue this subject.

Alexei Volkov: Hello, Mr President. Mr Govorukhin, colleagues,

This is a very important and pressing issue (I will continue on your topic), and this was included in the list of the May instructions and executive orders.

Multipurpose centres have been launched in the Republic of Crimea and Sevastopol and the coverage of the population is practically 100 percent. However, they do not yet operate according to “single window” principle in terms of providing government and municipal services. This is due to delayed funding, southerners’ ideas about the number of mediators in this market, and the lack of cooperation between municipal, regional and executive government bodies that do not provide the required number of services.

Such centres in other regions render over 150 services and issue more than 200 documents. In a quarter hour you can receive several services or documents. This issue has been resolved in the mainland of the Russian Federation but we have just started working on it. We would like to ask you not stop personally overseeing this instruction.

Vladimir Putin: Certainly not. There are colleagues from federal and republican government bodies here and we must tell them that this process of fitting in proved to be fairly difficult. Our local colleagues are telling us: we will do this or that on our own. They are told it will be too difficult for them. But they insist they can do it on their own. So I said: Leave them alone, let them do it themselves.

This is not working out and not because people are stupid or clumsy – not at all. The problem is that they do not even know how Russia’s legal system is built. It seems simple only at first glance but there are very many issues, minor problems that are invisible at first. The federal authorities are also trying to do something themselves but they do not know the local conditions and this is also true. This is why the process of entering Russia’s legal and administrative fields proved to be uneasy. That said we have already overcome the main problems.

The process of delegating powers has not yet been completely resolved in Russia either. I am referring to the mainland Russia because Crimea and Sevastopol are also Russia. We have not yet fully resolved everything there. We have been arguing for years what to transfer from the federal to the regional level and from the regional to the municipal level and so on. But we will bear this in mind by all means. I agree with you that the correct solution is to provide people with a package of services from a single window. We will follow this road, including in Crimea and Sevastopol.

Naturally, nobody is going to stop overseeing this process, even after the ONF activists decide that everything is working smoothly there. I can assure you that there will always be problems that will require attention.

Yelizaveta Tsokur: Crimea’s nature is unique and it is no secret to anyone that we are indeed prepared to protect it. This issue was raised yesterday and the environmental protection of our region is extremely important on the eve of the Year of the Environment.

I would like to give the floor to a researcher who has studied the Black Sea for over 40 years. Her name is Natalia Milchakova. I would like her to cover this topic.

Natalia Milchakova: Mr President, Mr Govorukhin, hello,

Environmental issues are a concern of probably every resident of Crimea and Sevastopol.

But first of all I would like to thank you for Crimea. Excuse me for this personal detail but my mother is 92 years old and at 90 she was up at 6 am waiting for the results of the referendum. She sends you her best regards and we do, too.

Vladimir Putin: And we send our best regards to people like your mother.

Natalia Milchakova: Thank you.

I was born in Kerch and have been involved in the study and protection of the environment of the Azov-Black Sea basins. There are many problems.

But we are now part of Russia, and we’ve preserved our fundamental research and our institutes in Sevastopol. Of course, there are many problems but our home should be clean for the generations to come and for our guests. Needless to say, the goal of protecting our environment – the sea, coasts and beaches – is a huge challenge.

One of the most urgent issues is trawl fishing of sprats off Crimean coasts, sometimes just 200–300 metres out. Vacationers see these trawls from the shore. Biodiversity is being destroyed. Filter-feeding bivalves that help clean the water are being killed.

Needless to say, the Federal Agency for Fishery (Rosrybolovstvo) is already doing much in this respect and has prohibited the use of trawls in some areas. However, a ban on trawling within a mile from the coastline would be a half measure. Of course, a full measure – maybe I am not entirely right in this, but I think even fishermen think that fishing by variable depth trawls at the coasts of Crimea and Russia must be banned. Black Sea and Mediterranean countries have moved away from trawl fishing. Of course, there are other methods.

This is a social problem for fishermen as well. But if we use other methods and keep waters stocked with fish, they will get to keep their jobs.

Of course, bans never work great, but you will agree that if we were to let a combine harvester on a flower field (and practically the same machine drives on the seabed) what flowers would be left to the future generations? This is of course a metaphor.

Now I will move on to our recommendations as scientists. I would like you to hold talks with all users of natural resources. Crimea’s waters have limited capacity and we must take care of them. It is necessary to hold talks with all users of natural resources, researchers, and federal and local government bodies. Together we will elaborate our strategy, the concept for the development of the Azov-Black Sea basin and hopefully we will resolve the issue. Today it’s trawling, tomorrow will bring another problem. We need a strategy, a concept. I would appreciate if you looked into this.

Vladimir Putin: Ms Milchakova, to tell the truth, before I came, just yesterday I carefully looked into how things are going in Crimea and the problems there, and talked with colleagues.

Yes, trawl fishing is certainly one of Crimea’s problems. It is good that you are raising this issue, because this is a real problem in some regions of the world (I have already talked about how our Japanese friends do not like to be reminded about this – they have taken all the fish from their waters, so reproduction is difficult now). I do not know how things are going there now, but hopefully they have solved the problem. But they did create it in the first place. I hope we will not have to repeat the same experiment.

What would I like to focus on? First of all, bottom trawling is prohibited in the Azov-Black Sea basin. You said (and I even wrote down your words): “It’s like a combine driving on the seabed.” But that shouldn’t be, it shouldn’t move along the seabed.

Bottom trawling is prohibited as well as trawls moving along the seabed like combines. Trawling is allowed in the water but not on the bottom. But even this is prohibited in a one-mile zone between April 1 and October 1 in some areas of Crimea’s southern coast, as well as in a one-mile zone throughout the year in some other areas of Crimea.

However, I think you are right that it’s still an urgent problem. Bottom trawling is prohibited, but it is difficult to say whether everyone follows the rules. So there is a problem to be resolved as soon as possible – I am referring to supervision. First of all, we should establish effective supervision of the enforcement of existing regulations.

The second thing. You also addressed these issues, you said they are really social issues, and you’re right. A small trawl fleet produces 35,000 tonnes of fish, 14,000 to 18,000 of which (over 50 percent) are produced in the one-mile zone.

In fact, this kind of activity can be considered essential to the budget due to the rather large revenues it generates. And the second point is jobs: people have to work somewhere.

You spoke about developing a special programme. Yes, we certainly should think about it. That may be done, including stocking inland waters with fish. But it will not be sea fish, and it will take quite a lot of time to develop and fund this programme, whereas people need to earn money today to provide for their families.

This is why I have a proposal. I thought about this when I was reading about this issue. We can and should work on it together with fishermen, researchers and public organisations. We must think of the ways of efficiently replacing this coastal trawling. You said vacationers see trawling but they should not see it. Trawl fishing in one-mile zone on the southern coast of Crimea is banned altogether from April 1 to October 1. If some people are fishing, they are breaking the law.

But this is not the point I want to make now. Usually in such cases it is necessary to upgrade the fleet. We must think of how we can do this so that people can keep their jobs on the one hand and stay more than a mile out, go further out to the sea, on the other. But we must discuss this with specialists, the Federal Agency for Fishery, you and fishermen. If we arrive at the conclusion that this issue may be resolved by upgrading the fleet, we will be prepared to join these efforts. I will be prepared to get involved in this and provide plans and sources of funding for upgrading the fleet in Crimea.

This is a very serious issue. It is linked with subsidies and sources of funding for this programme. And we will find the necessary funds. All we need are real proposals that could be drafted in cooperation with you, representatives of the fishing industry and the local authorities. Let us work together on such a programme.

Boris Levin: Mr President, I must use this opportunity as a doctor with 40 years of service in rural healthcare. I am very glad that we actively discussed healthcare in the Republic of Crimea at our venues yesterday. Much has been already done in this respect in the past two years.

Larisa Melnik will take it from here.

Larisa Melnik: Hello, Mr President,

Vladimir Putin: Do not forget the previous question. Let’s do this, this is not a joke. We will be willing to allocate funds for this. Give us a programme on upgrading the fleet, draft it together with fishermen and regional authorities so that this fleet leaves this one mile zone if this is possible. I do not know whether this is possible or not. That is for specialists to decide, including researchers like you who are studying marine biology, especially here. Probably it is possible but other methods and capabilities are required. We are prepared to help, so give us the programme.

Larisa Melnik: I am Larisa Melnik, a deputy representing Sevastopol’s Lenin municipal district, activist of the Russian Popular Front.

My colleagues and I deal with healthcare issues, and we try to do that to be best of our ability. First of all, I would like, on behalf of my colleagues, to thank you for providing more funds to the peninsula’s healthcare system (they have doubled compared to 2014): for modernisation, as a result of which we have received over 4,000 units of equipment; for drug supplies, including subsidised and free medications; and for a new fleet of ambulances. Crimea and Sevastopol have received 182 vehicles, including 60 EMS vehicles.

Surveys conducted by ONF activists show that people are grateful for the availability of free medical care, high-tech medical treatment, returning to a system of full medical examinations at outpatient clinics and free preventive check-ups, among other things.

Nevertheless, not all problems have been resolved yet. Surveys also show that the main concern for the Crimean residents is the time it takes to receive medical care and – our perennial problem – long queues at outpatient clinics. In this connection, we have a few requests to make, if we may.

First. For some reason the development of a medical information and automation system on the peninsula is going nowhere. Meanwhile, the promotion of such technological achievements as online registration and an integrated information system could significantly improve the organisation of the patient examination procedure. This would reduce wait times. In this connection, we would like to ask the Healthcare Ministry to step up supervision of the development of the medical information system.

Second. It is often said that we do not have enough healthcare facilities and apparently this is why there are long queues. Mr President, frankly, we have enough healthcare facilities on the peninsula. The problem is that the condition of most of them is beyond all criticism and does not meet any standards, which, by the way, leads to licensing problems for them.

So we have this immodest wish: maybe it would be possible to consider the possibility of building new hospitals, new inpatient and outpatient clinics instead of modernising old ones, because we believe that new healthcare facilities could resolve the problem of long queues. Thank you.

Vladimir Putin: Yes, indeed this is one problem. You are right. You know better than I that the number of healthcare facilities per capita is sufficient but the quality is bad.

We will not talk about the past now. We will talk about what there is and what we need to do to improve the situation. If you believe that the establishment of an information system is one of these ongoing but important issues, of course, we will not only think about this but will begin working on it in the very near future more effectively that we have to date. The [Healthcare] Minister is here and I ask you to tell us what additional steps are needed to address the problem right now.

We need to provide equipment and train staff, so that local institutions can be connected to relevant clinics in mainland Russia and receive appropriate assistance from leading experts.

But, of course, this is not enough. We need to build new multi-faceted medical institutions in the Republic of Crimea and Sevastopol. I recently talked to Mr Ovsyannikov [Sevastopol Governor]. I think there have been significant delays. In June, we talked about the need to obtain the necessary documents to start building. We agree that construction in Crimea and Sevastopol should start in the first quarter of next year.

Dmitry Kozak [Deputy Prime Minister] is present here. He is also a big boss, who heads agencies engaged in all kinds of expert examinations. It can take them about two years to carry out all the necessary checks. But they have to carry out examinations quickly and effectively, so that construction companies can start works.

I agree with you that instead of renovating existing institutions, new ones with the latest equipment should be built. Here, in Russia, we tend to provide new institutions with new equipment.

Mr Yevtushenkov is also present. I asked him to come. Will you build facilities in Sevastopol or in Crimea?

Chairman of the Board of Directors of Sistema Financial Corporation Vladimir Yevtushenkov: Both here and there.

Vladimir Putin: So, both here and there. Mr Yevtushenko is from Sistema Corporation, a multi-faceted company. He will build multi-faceted medical institutions both in Sevastopol and Crimea.

Mr Aksyonov, I know you planned to attach some institution to the existing multi-faceted hospital. Let’s agree that it should be a new institution. It can be located close to the existing one, but it should be new.

Why do I agree with my colleague? As you know, I have said publicly many times that we used to discuss whether to build high-tech medical centres in the Russian regions. Many colleagues were against the idea, arguing that the regions lack staff, so nobody would use the equipment. But what do we have now? There is no lack of staff anymore, as trained specialists come from big cities to work in little and more modest, at the first glance, towns, as these towns have the most modern equipment. People even come back from abroad to work here. So ultimately we succeeded and everything is working as it should.

Not only do thousands of people use the services of such centres but there is also another, quite surprising effect. When such a centre appears in the region, all others begin to improve to keep up with it. This is an objective fact and a very good one, a very useful part of this entire process. Therefore, new centres certainly should be established.

Mr Yevtushenkov, will you be able to start construction and installation in the first quarter?

Vladimir Yevtushenkov: Mr President, we have already decided with Healthcare Minister [Ms Skvortsova], Ms Golodets [Deputy Prime Minister] and the head of Crimea which projects to implement. Naturally, we should start this year or we will not make it by 2018. There are some issues that must be discussed if possible.

Vladimir Putin: I do not want to have to talk to the leaders of Crimea and Sevastopol again. Projects may be coordinated for years. But they do exist and simply must be assigned to a location. There is no need to do anything else and this can certainly be done quickly.

I hope that the Government of the Russian Federation will take care of all procedures it’s responsible for and that local authorities will do all they can to distribute plots, connect them to infrastructure and approve projects because these projects are coordinated at the local level, and the work will take off. I asked for it to be launched in the first quarter of next year but it is even better if it can be started this year.

Yelizaveta Tsokur: Mr President, 175 ethnic groups live in our multi-ethnic Crimea. I would like to give the floor to representative of the Crimean Tatars Ibraim Shirin.

Ibraim Shirin: Good afternoon, Mr President.

Vladimir Putin: How do you say “hello” in Crimean Tatar?

Ibraim Shirin: We say “meraba.”

A lot has changed for the Crimean Tatars since Crimea’s return to Russia. The construction of a mosque was discussed for over 20 years but it started with Crimea’s return to Russia and I can see that it will be built in time. I believe this. Land is being allotted for the construction of individual houses, apartments are being bought for families that were on the waiting list for many years, newspapers and magazines that have preserved the traditions and the language of the Crimean Tatars are being published. Now we have our own national TV channel, Millet, which means “people”.

And the most satisfying and important achievement for me is that now books are also issued in the Crimean Tatar language, starting from school textbooks and ending with history publications. Why is it important for me? Because my daughter was born seven month ago and now I know that she will go to school and study not only the official Russian language and English as a foreign language but also the official Crimean Tatar language because now Crimea has three official languages – Crimean Tatar, Ukrainian and Russian.

I would like to thank you for the Executive Order on Rehabilitation of the Indigenous Peoples of Crimea. This is very important, especially for Crimean Tatars. We have waited 70 years for this and it is all I can do not to cry because this goes so deep. Everything has changed here – the living standards and views are changing.

I would like to say that we have a holiday called Hidirellez. It is our ethnic holiday. Only Crimean Tatars have it. I know that in 2000 you were at the Sabantuy festival in Kazan. Taking this opportunity, I would like to invite you to Hidirellez next May. All Crimean Tatars will be happy to see you.

Vladimir Putin: Thank you.

If you say anywhere in Russia – absolutely anywhere – that today is Sabantuy, everyone will understand that this is a holiday. Hidirellez is not so well known yet, but I hope that it will also become part of Russian national culture. Thank you very much for the invitation.

I very much hope that all the decisions that were adopted will not remain on paper but will be implemented.

The rehabilitation that you mentioned is a very important moral and political component of our work but I would like to stress that it is not enough. We will definitely hold events related to socio-economic aspects of rehabilitation and support for these people.

There is another point I would like to make. I do not remember the figure in absolute terms now. Mr Kozak, do you remember in absolute terms how much we provide for these purposes under the Crimea development programme?

Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Kozak: 10 billion.

Vladimir Putin: 10 billion rubles.

I would like to make it clear that we provide 10 billion in support for the peoples who suffered as a result of repression, for their rehabilitation and support. This refers primarily to socio-economic support, because political issues have already been resolved and these decisions have been adopted. This concerns the language and culture and the possibility of receiving an education in one’s native tongue, as well as periodical publications, but material and economic issues require financial resources.

We have provided 10 billion to the people who live here now. These are Crimean Tatars, who live here, as well as other peoples who were affected. For example, [ethnic] Germans were also affected. The commander of a partisan group in which my father fought at the beginning of the war was a German. What did he have to do with the deportation of Germans? There were people who fought against Nazism, who were killed in the fight against Nazism. Yet, they were subjected to repression. There are also other peoples. Many peoples were subjected to repression.

We have earmarked 10 billion rubles for compensations to the affected ethnic groups that live in Crimea. We are willing to continue to allocate funds and other resources for those who plan to return to Crimea. But we must be honest with all of them; we must tell them that these funds will be issued only to those who live in Crimea. After we settle the main problems facing us, we will be able to help more people. But so far, we will only help those who live here. We must be honest with each other.

As far as I know, no funds were previously allocated for these purposes, and many villages where Crimean Tatars live are in a dismal state, to put it mildly. They need new roads and social facilities, some of them have no electricity and elementary sanitation. These problems must be dealt with, but all of this costs money. Therefore, we have only allocated funds for those who live there.

Here is what we can tell those who want to come to live here: We welcome everyone, but you should know that we only have limited funds. We will first help those who live there and only then we may be able to do more. We want to help, but so far we have only allocated funds for the current residents.

I want everyone to understand this. Not that we do not want more people to come here, but we only have what we have: our funds are limited, but we will continue working.

If you are in this room, this means that you consider yourself an active member of the Russian Popular Front. We allocate the resources for this, and I would like you to join us in monitoring their provision, to see if they are allocated regularly and whether they are invested rationally or not. Generally, you should check whether any funds are allocated, and what is going on. I urge all our colleagues to do this.

The public must monitor the funds that are allocated from the federal or regional budgets or by the Sevastopol authorities.

Boris Levin: Mr President, everyone knows that Crimea is a very attractive resort centre. When asked about their associations with Crimea, everyone will mention palaces, architecture, the warm sea and the sun. But Crimea also has a powerful agrarian sector. I believe that those who have been here on holiday will praise the quality of our fruit, vegetables and other products. This is true. Our region is a breadbasket that can feed half of Russia, as our agrarian experts say.

Sergei Krivutsa will weigh in on this issue because, unfortunately, there are some persisting problems.

(The continuing discussion concerned Sergei Krivutsa’s proposal to build modern wholesale distribution centres for the quality processing and storage of agricultural products from Crimea. Agriculture Minister Alexander Tkachev participated in the discussion.)

Vladimir Putin: You know, I would like to ask you to consider the following. A significant part of Crimean agriculture was based on the water from the canal that the bordering country closed and, therefore, put the republic’s farming industry in a very difficult position. These problems have not been completely resolved by the Agriculture Ministry, the governments of Sevastopol or the republic because there are still water supply issues.

Yelizaveta Tsokur: Regarding this water supply problem, we would like to give the floor to Viktor Tarasenko, doctor of geology and mineralogy.

Viktor Tarasenko: Hello, Mr President, Mr Govorukhin,

I represent the Russian Popular Front’s Crimean branch and the environmentalists of Crimea. Water – and we will talk more about it – is indeed the most important of resources. A lot depends on it, especially agricultural development.

As a result of certain events, we found ourselves in a situation where we have to rely on our own resources. Water resource professionals and scientists in Crimea continue to work on the system and debate the management approach of water resources in order to use the substantial potential of the Crimean mountains and foothills to their fullest. They are considering how to distribute the water efficiently, restore the environment, and the rivers and underground lakes so that we can collect and preserve this water instead of contaminating it.

They are looking for alternatives. The alternative would be demineralisation of the alkali soil water, desalination of sea water, as the rest of the world does, and of course, wastewater treatment. We have quite significant water drainage volume, and cities – Simferopol, Sevastopol, etc. – discharge some 35 million cubic metres of water. We produce about 150 million cubic metres of waste water, which, after treatment, can be used in gardens and eventually solve the above problems. But this must be a comprehensive strategy.

There is an ongoing discussion about this issue and particularly about transferring water between regions. For example, the Republic of Crimea could provide water to Sevastopol, etc. A decision must be made within the republic.

We have an issue that is of great concern to us, specifically, fresh water supply for Crimean residents and visitors. This issue can create serious social injustice.

(Next, Viktor Tarasenko raised the issue of the water rates, which differ in various parts of Crimea, and proposed equalising them through a unified system of prices and tariffs.)

Vladimir Putin: Indeed, water is a crucial resource. Fortunately, we have plenty of water in Russia.

There are problems here in Crimea. Initially, the issue was very acute, especially after our neighbours cut off supplies. On the whole, as I am sure you know, the urgency of the problem was essentially eliminated, especially the urgency related to drinking water. The problem has not been completely resolved but it is no longer acute.

We have provided over 23 billion rubles from the federal budget to deal with the problem. In addition to that, between 2015 and 2020, over 40 billion rubles will be provided under the federal targeted programme for the development of Crimea and Sevastopol. It is important that these funds are used rationally and that we achieve the required result. This includes, as you said, inland wells, possibly water lines, desalination or demineralisation.

There are many methods. I will not go into details now. People like you know better which method is the most effective. By getting specialists like you involved, the federal and regional authorities should resolve and definitely will resolve the problem. I have no doubt about that. Russia is in a position to resolve the problem and we will resolve it. The only question is to ensure that the funds are spent rationally, that the funds are not squandered.

Regarding the difference in rates. We just had a debate with the Agriculture Minister. As you know, until recently he was the Governor of Krasnodar Territory. Even in Krasnodar Territory, the water rates vary by a factor of five to six from one municipality to another, in neighbouring districts. In Kalmykia, neighbouring municipalities have a difference of up to 100 percent, and so on. Yes, people in different areas have somewhat different living standards and their incomes also differ. There may be more water in certain areas but incomes there may be lower, so making them pay more for water could be a problem. That is my first point.

Second, how to transfer funds received in one district to another district. It is their right to set the tariffs that municipal authorities deem appropriate. We should consider ways of levelling them out, so to speak. We cannot address the issue other than through subsidies.

I would like to ask Mr Aksyonov and the Acting Governor of Sevastopol to think about this, if there are similar problems in Sevastopol, and to submit their proposals.

But of course, if the difference in water rates, especially in neighbouring areas, is so large, then equalisation is not an idle matter. I agree with you here. Let us think about it together.

Boris Levin: Mr President, the problem of water supply is indeed a major issue after the shutdown of the North Crimean Canal. People in Crimea remember the energy blockade on November 22, 2015 pretty well.

Events unfolded rapidly with your support. Your unscheduled visits here were related to connecting the energy bridge lines. As a result, that crisis brought us together thanks to your participation and the participation of the Crimean people.

Anna Glukhova will add a few words on this.

Anna Glukhova: Mr President, Mr Govorukhin,

My name is Anna Glukhova, I am the Chairperson of the Sevastopol branch of the National Student Rescue Corps public youth organisation. We train student volunteers and set up student rescue teams in Sevastopol.

The state of emergency for all of us in Crimea was, of course, a big and very unpleasant surprise. But we felt the support of a big country and our President, and it gave us strength. Every day we and the Sevastopol department of the Emergencies Ministry were keeping the public informed; they interviewed people and, based on those interviews, made lists of the people who needed help the most.

It was particularly important for us to help WWII veterans. We concentrated on them, talked to them and provided the necessary assistance. They are the ones who have always instilled confidence in the future in our huge country. They all unanimously said that they had been through the worst in 1941, and this is a small problem compared to that, and it will be resolved shortly.

It was thanks to your direct supervision that the energy supply issue was resolved promptly. We know that currently there are four energy bridge sections and no more problems with the energy supply. At the same time we were dealing with gas distribution problems in Crimea and now the level of available gas in Crimea and Sevastopol is above the average level across Russia.

As a person who was born and grew up in Crimea, I can tell you with certainty that the region never enjoyed such a high level of infrastructure development under the Ukrainian government. Thank you very much on behalf of all the people in Crimea and Sevastopol for your attention and support with the energy crisis and gas supply in Crimea. Thank you very much.

We always feel the support of all Russians, for which we are very grateful.

Vladimir Putin: Regarding cutting off the water supply or the actions that caused the blackout and cut off the power supply, this is close to a crime against humanity because if you think about the consequences of cutting off a large region that is home to several million people – 2.5 or 2.6 million people – cutting off their power supply in the winter, even here in Crimea, well, this sort of act… The human rights organisations seem to have all swallowed their tongues and are silent, but in reality, this is a serious crime. Think about the hospitals, the children and the elderly. This is a very serious matter. But everyone has been silent about it, as if it were not something we need to discuss. Well, let them be if that’s the way they will have it.

But let me speak frankly. You spoke just now about this matter and I want to share my feelings too. I have great admiration for the way the people here in Crimea and Sevastopol live and react to the events that have taken place, great admiration for their calm and collected behaviour, courage, and readiness to stand up for their interests. As for those responsible for these acts, what they did was very foolish and I do not even know exactly what they were hoping to achieve. Did they hope that everyone would fall to their knees and plead for aid? The people who did this were unbelievable idiots.

But the problems have not been fully resolved yet. I do not know if you are aware or not, though you should be aware that Crimea will be connected to the mainline gas pipeline by the end of this year. This will mean full connection to the gas supply network and the possibility to produce energy through the region’s own generating capability. Gas will provide the primary source for this energy production. You know that we have already begun work too on building an electric generating station that will work on this gas too. This will make it possible to begin genuinely stable energy supply, connect the region to the gas network, and ensure power supply for the entire region, including Sevastopol. This will really open up a new life for the region in terms of the opportunities created, including for developing other sectors.

Our colleague spoke just now about various possible solutions to the region’s water supply problems, but desalination, as we know, is an energy-intensive business. The energy supply development efforts here will create new opportunities for desalination projects and for addressing other matters such as developing recreation and leisure zones, building new health and holiday resorts and so on. All of these issues are linked to the energy supply issue, and we will act with a view to future growth and increased consumption.

But we must synchronise development of these new opportunities and the mainline pipeline with delivering supplies to households and industry. This is a task for the regional and local authorities. There will no doubt never be enough money and federal aid will be needed too for low-pressure pipelines and other forms of consumption. This is something we will need to reflect on in advance.

Let me say again that there will be a fundamental improvement in the situation starting from the end of this year. Over the next two years, these problems will be resolved fully for long years ahead.

Yelizaveta Tsokur: Mr President, we would like to raise another issue of great importance for us – preserving the cultural heritage that has developed here since antiquity and that, we think, distils the best from different cultures.

I want to give the floor to archaeologist Alexander Gertsen.

Alexander Gertsen: Mr President, Mr Govorukhin,

Over quite a few years now, with the help of students doing internships and student volunteers, we have been studying a magnificent monument, the mediaeval town of Mangup, located on a remote and isolated plateau. A Byzantine fortress was erected there in earlier times, and then a town grew up in the area in the 14th-15th centuries, the capital of the Orthodox principality of Theodoro, which had ties with the Grand Principality of Moscow, until these ties were cut off when the Ottomans invaded the peninsula.

Vladimir Putin: Was this a Greek principality?

Alexander Gertsen: Late Byzantine. The used the Greek language, but the actual population was made up of Hellenised descendants of the Goths, Alans and other ethnic groups that lived in Crimea at that time and had come under Byzantine influence.

Vladimir Putin: You put it well – “other ethnic groups”. You mean our forebears in reality?

Alexander Gertsen: Yes, of course.

Mr President, we have much worth seeing and you would not regret coming to visit the site. From there, you get a magnificent view over the mountains of southwestern Crimea.

I want to raise the following matter. Maxim Gorky once called Crimea a real gold mine for archaeology. This ‘gold mine’ now counts more than 10,000 sites if we look in terms of statistics. I think this figure is actually too low, because each passing day brings us new information. This ‘gold’ needs protection and a proper inventory process. We have a great many problems here. The official bodies responsible for this, the officials and employees, never leave their offices, are buried beneath a tonne of bureaucratic work, and destroy the forest with their endless paper shuffling. They are not to blame for this, rather, this is our common misfortune.

Vladimir Putin: Let’s move over to electronic information exchange then.

Alexander Gertsen: Yes, absolutely, this is absolutely essential, essential for the environment too.

What is the issue and what are our hopes? The fact is that without the help of public organisations we cannot resolve these urgent issues.

First of all, the historical sites must be provided with information signs, which will prevent 80 percent of vandalism against these sites from happening. It is necessary to collect data for accounting records as requested by the authorities. Finally, we must continue exploration.

You see, what is happening right now reminds me of a frontline, where our cultural heritage has to stand against bungling, vandalism, ignorance and extremely well organised crime. This fight can only be won if we have good resources for collecting data – intelligence, if you want. We must literally have an efficient agent network because it is timely awareness that allows taking prompt action.

Vladimir Putin: This is my expertise. You have come to the right person.

Alexander Gertsen: I thought so.

So, this is how it goes. What if one of the areas of involvement for the Russian Popular Front would be work on this frontline – of course, in cooperation with research organisations and officials whose responsibility is to solve these problems?

Thank you for your answer.

Vladimir Putin: Crimea’s cultural heritage is undoubtedly a gem of Russia. We have many regions like this across the country. For example, Derbent in Daghestan, a city with a thousand years of history. There are other places that we are proud of. Crimea is one of them, there is no doubt. Starting with the Bosporan Kingdom in the 5th century BC, the artefacts and ancient literature are all here.

To say nothing about the later periods, the Greek and the Roman periods, when Roman legions came here and protected their borders from the Sarmatians, various tribes and so on. It is all very interesting and it is part of our cultural legacy. This is what makes us who we are even if we do not realise it, even if are not aware of it. Culturally, mentally, spiritually.

Of course, this heritage requires more attention than it has received until now and not only in Crimea, but everywhere in the country. I have visited archaeological digs, including in Novgorod Region, Novgorod and the Ladoga area several times. It is very interesting and I am always very impressed. People are doing unique work there.

As I already said and the scientists told me, they dug and dug and found the site where the court hearing took place, and from the records written on the birch bark manuscripts they were able to work out the subject of this court hearing. They kept working and, five years later, found another birch bark manuscript that told them how the dispute ended. This is an amazing reconstruction of life and it gives us an accurate picture of our forebears and how they lived, and this helps us to find our place in our present and future too.

I therefore think that Crimea is certainly a very special place given its history in olden times and also the events we know for sure that took place here 100, 150 or 200 years ago and that have great significance for us. Mr Medinsky, the minister of culture, is not here with us today, but he is aware of these matters and I have asked him to give them particular attention.

I want to thank you very much for raising this matter. Crimea is home to around 5,000 cultural heritage sites and as many sites again where archaeological excavation should take place. Make your proposals and for my part, I can give you the simple promise that I will do everything I can to ensure that as many of these proposals as possible will be carried out, despite the fact that our officials are buried under a mass of paperwork.

As I said, we will move over from this kind of paperwork to online interaction. In this respect, we can accomplish a lot by using modern methods and equipment, but much depends on the regional authorities too. All of this construction and these battles against construction taking place on sites that should be set aside for preserving historical monuments or carrying out archaeological digs – this is primarily a question for the regional authorities. We in Moscow cannot sit there giving orders. It is not our place to do this, all the more so when you take into account the specific circumstances here in Crimea and Sevastopol. We therefore need to work in close cooperation with the Crimea and Sevastopol authorities.

I will personally examine your proposals with pleasure and will do the maximum to ensure a normal environment for your work.

Stanislav Govorukhin: I have a question, too.

Mr President, you have recently mentioned a sea link between Crimean cities, meaning the Meteor and Raketa hydrofoil boats. I have lived in Crimea for many years and made countless films about the seaside. I believe that it is impossible to imagine life in Crimea without cruise ships.

Cruise voyages were enormously successful and profitable in the past. These vessels also carried passengers from Yalta to Sevastopol.

Is it possible to buy three or four such boats, not necessarily new ones, for cruises between Sevastopol and Sochi via friendly Abkhazia? Life would be much more interesting then, and this would also ease the passenger traffic. I do not think this will cost much, especially if we buy used ships.

Vladimir Putin: I will not go into detail now, although there are some very important details. This should be a private initiative, which we can and should support. I agree that this will make life on the Black Sea coast not only in Crimea but also in the Caucasus more interesting and dynamic. I used such ships in the Soviet era myself, moving from Abkhazia to Odessa, and from there to Leningrad by train. I am convinced that great many people would use this form of transportation, especially in summer.

Stanislav Govorukhin: Imagine how boring the sea view in the Caucasus is now, without a single passenger ship on the horizon. I believe this idea can be implemented very easily.

Vladimir Putin: I travelled on several such boats in the Soviet era. I think they were called Gruzia and Kazakhstan, or something like that. They do not exist any more. I do not know what happened to them; possibly, they were scrapped. I can assure you, Mr Govorukhin, even if it may sound strange to you, that we think alike. I thought about this only yesterday. I believe we should instruct the Transport Ministry to analyse this initiative.

Stanislav Govorukhin: I think it is a good cause, which would transform the atmosphere in Crimea and the Caucasus completely.

Vladimir Putin: We will definitely look into it.

Stanislav Govorukhin: I have a question, too.

Mr President, you have recently mentioned a sea link between Crimean cities, meaning the Meteor and Raketa hydrofoil boats. I have lived in Crimea for many years and made countless films about the seaside. I believe that it is impossible to imagine life in Crimea without cruise ships.

Cruise voyages were enormously successful and profitable in the past. These vessels also carried passengers from Yalta to Sevastopol.

Is it possible to buy three or four such boats, not necessarily new ones, for cruises between Sevastopol and Sochi via friendly Abkhazia? Life would be much more interesting then, and this would also ease the passenger traffic. I do not think this will cost much, especially if we buy used ships.

Vladimir Putin: I will not go into detail now, although there are some very important details. This should be a private initiative, which we can and should support. I agree that this will make life on the Black Sea coast not only in Crimea but also in the Caucasus more interesting and dynamic. I used such ships in the Soviet era myself, moving from Abkhazia to Odessa, and from there to Leningrad by train. I am convinced that great many people would use this form of transportation, especially in summer.

Stanislav Govorukhin: Imagine how boring the sea view in the Caucasus is now, without a single passenger ship on the horizon. I believe this idea can be implemented very easily.

Vladimir Putin: I travelled on several such boats in the Soviet era. I think they were called Gruzia and Kazakhstan, or something like that. They do not exist any more. I do not know what happened to them; possibly, they were scrapped. I can assure you, Mr Govorukhin, even if it may sound strange to you, that we think alike. I thought about this only yesterday. I believe we should instruct the Transport Ministry to analyse this initiative.

Stanislav Govorukhin: I think it is a good cause, which would transform the atmosphere in Crimea and the Caucasus completely.

Vladimir Putin: We will definitely look into it.

Boris Levin: Continuing this subject, Mr President…

Vladimir Putin: That man there has a hand raised. Please, give him the microphone.

Alexander Batalin: General director of Fiolent plant Batalin from Simferopol.

We discussed this matter on Friday and had a meeting with Mr Rogozin [Deputy Prime Minister] and Mr Aksyonov. We examined the matter and Mr Rogozin decided that the Marine Board would study the matter at its meeting in December, because there are financial issues involved and the work needs to be properly organised. The matter will therefore be examined in December.

Mr President, the reason why I wanted to take the floor is because I am an industrialist and I want to thank you for your instruction on the roadmaps for industry. We all know that Crimea’s industry was in a sorry state when the region became part of the Russian Federation. I can tell you that your personal instruction on drafting these roadmaps and developing Crimea’s industrial potential has had a real positive effect and we are grateful to you, to the Russian Government and to our region’s head for your rapid, attentive and professional approach to resolving these problems.

Mr President, I am not sure if you have been briefed on this, but just think, there is no other region in Russia where industrial growth attained a figure of close to 30 percent over the first half of 2016 year on year.

Vladimir Putin: That is 100 times more than in the country as a whole, where industrial output growth is 0.3 percent. No, that is not right – it is GDP growth that stands at 0.3, while industrial output growth is currently at 3.6 percent.

Alexander Batalin: Mr President, I belong to the generation of ‘red directors’ and have been a director for 30 years now. I have been in Crimea all my life and I have never seen such growth before. I want to say thank you for this.

The issue was raised today, and partly thanks to you too. You gave the instruction on potentially building a fleet of trawlers here. We can do this here in Crimea. To give you a good example, there is the Zaliv plant in Kerch. I make machine tools and they are shipbuilders. Just think, when Crimea became part of Russia, there were only just over 300 workers at the plant. The rest, two thirds of the workforce, were all on leave. Today, the Zaliv plant has 2,000 people working and wages have increased four-fold. I am happy for the people in Kerch that they have started building housing and kindergartens. They plan to create another 4,000 jobs over these coming years. There is great potential here. Most useful for Crimea and Sevastopol is that the region’s businesses can take part in developing and building ships not just for the defence sector, but civilian vessels too.

What I want to say is that this is a case when your instruction has brought results, and I thank the Government and the regional head for this. I have no doubt that these roadmaps will work for other plants too and we will end the year with good results, working at a good pace.

You have set us a new task – we are aware of this, and we are monitoring its progress. It concerns the diversification of the defence industry. We will almost double the production [of civilian and dual-purpose goods] by 2020. This is why I am asking you, considering the potential of Crimea and Sevastopol, to issue an instruction, which we discussed yesterday, on the trawler fleet, which used to be stationed in Sevastopol and Kerch, and related local projects… You issued such an instruction before, but I am asking you to extend it, if possible. Everyone is wondering what will happen after the transition period. Therefore, we are asking you to extend this useful instruction. I can assure you, on behalf of Crimean industrialists, that we have the potential to implement your instructions.

Thank you, Mr President.

Vladimir Putin: Thank you.

You have left almost nothing for me to say. This is why. The shipyard in Kerch was in a decent shape and had good equipment. The new owner took over rather carefully, so that nobody lost anything. The transfer was carried out in a civilised manner.

My instruction concerned the assignment of contracts to companies in Crimea and Sevastopol. I can conclude from what you have said that this instruction has been fulfilled, by and large. But the second thing, which you also pointed out, is no less important. Indeed, these companies have contracts now, but what about the future?

These companies must be improved and retooled, with new personnel trained and a clear view of the markets for their products. There is no doubt that this work will continue.

Stanislav Govorukhin: Mr Levin, sorry for interrupting you. Please proceed.

Boris Levin: Thank you for your question. I think it fit the subject under discussion perfectly.

Mr President, much has been said here about Crimea’s diversity, which includes the agrarian industry and manufacturing. But it is above all a resort centre. However, our climate and natural conditions are not enough for Crimea to improve in this capacity.

Yesterday we discussed the very important issue of rehabilitation tourism and medical rehabilitation in general, which is an issue of concern to me. We have with us today Ani Palyan, a member of the Russian Paralympic team, a bronze medallist of the 2012 London Paralympics and many-time world and European swimming champion.

Ani Palyan: Hello.

To begin with, I would like to thank you, Mr President, for supporting Paralympic athletes at a difficult time.

Next I want to speak about the rehabilitation of people with disabilities, an issue of concern to me. I have a locomotor disability. My family moved to Crimea many years ago so that I could receive the necessary rehabilitation treatment. I received it, and it has greatly improved my condition.

I underwent my first health rehabilitation at the Burdenko health resort in Saky, which at that time was the best health resort in the country. Today, sadly, it is in a sorry state, like most of the region’s health resorts, which have had no modernisation or reconstruction for many years now. It is really essential that this work take place because Crimea is a place with tremendous global potential as a health resort destination and all people with disabilities would love to come here and receive good quality and affordable treatment.

We hope very much for your support. Thank you.

Vladimir Putin: We allocated more than 100 million rubles from the federal budget for this work in 2014. Then the amount dropped by half and the region itself allocated only a very small amount. This is not enough.

I have no need to say now just how important this is, as we all know this. It was true that Crimea’s healthcare facilities and health resorts received considerable attention during the Soviet period, but later, this all started to erode.

We need to restore this sector. Let’s work with the Healthcare Ministry and the regional authorities on this matter and see what can be done. In any case, we should take as a base a couple of the best facilities that specialised in this area earlier and restore what we had before, only on a new and modernised foundation, so as to show just what potential the region has. This is certainly possible and we should do this. Let’s reflect on it together and I ask you to put forward your proposals on this matter.

As far as the Paralympians are concerned, we are sure that you and the other Paralympians will yet have opportunities to make a mark and demonstrate your abilities. Incidentally, Ukraine has an excellent centre here. They had only just completed a Paralympic training centre here. I said right from the start that they can use it, that no one will take anything away from them, and that it will belong to the Ukrainian Paralympic family. I am not sure if they are using this centre or not, though I think they are not. Are they using it, Mr Aksyonov?

Sergei Aksyonov: Mr Sushkevich continues working at the centre. The family is there. The national Russian Paralympic games recently took place. Your instruction was carried out in full.

Vladimir Putin: What instruction? I said that the centre should remain in Ukraine’s hands.

Sergei Aksyonov: It is. The people who owned it when the region was part of Ukraine continue to own it now. In other words, nothing has changed at all.

Vladimir Putin: They are still here – this is great.

It is good to have our Paralympians know that there is nothing that could be a cause of contention in their relations with their friends in Ukraine.

Yelizaveta Tsokur: Mr President, we already touched upon the topic of tourism development today, and even heard the description of a tourist Mecca of our country.

In fact, during the forum we have developed some suggestions regarding tourism industry development. I would like to give the floor to journalist Alexander Zheleznyak.

Alexander Zheleznyak: Hello, Mr President.

Alexander Zheleznyak, Sevastopol.

According to statistics, well over five million people have visited Russian Crimea, and the number is growing. However, we remain the centre of summer tourism, and most people visit us during the three summer months. Therefore, we should think about what the region can offer all year round.

Every part of Crimea has its own specific character. I would like to talk about Sevastopol. Sevastopol is, of course, the centre of historical tourism and military history. People go there to become more familiar with it. Unfortunately, it is only possible to see military ships from afar or from a motor boat cruising through the bay.

Many sites here have great potential to become museum landmarks, and they require preservation. For example, museum ships. There are the Aurora and Krasin in St Petersburg, the Lenin nuclear icebreaker in Murmansk. There is even a museum ship in Irkutsk. But Sevastopol still does not have a single museum ship. There is not a single museum submarine in Balaklava. This would definitely be an interesting attraction that would bring more tourists there.

Old military ships are constantly destroyed and disposed of like passenger ships that disappear to nowhere. Perhaps we could arrange it for the military to hand over some ships for museum purposes as well as some quay walls to be used by museums. This would attract more visitors.

Second. New facilities and new infrastructure would increase the tourist flow to Crimea and Sevastopol. We need more trained professionals and services that meet world standards. The state programme for the development of tourism in Crimea has allocated a rather small amount of money for improving the quality of service – only about seven million rubles, which is not enough.

Perhaps it would be reasonable to review the programme and allocate more funds for these purposes?

Vladimir Putin: This matter of human resources training is a very important matter, important in general, and for Crimea in particular. Perhaps the money needs to be redistributed. There was not much money allocated here. We should take a look at the possibilities for training the needed professionals, but one thing is clear – we need a new quality of work in this area. I ask our colleagues and the regional heads to draft proposals. If some additional funds are needed, we will settle this matter, it is not a problem.

We already have training centres throughout the whole country, and it would be possible and a good idea to organise similar centres here in Crimea. If there are no such centres here, we should develop them, and until they are here in the region, people can be sent anywhere for training. We have plenty of higher education institutions, plenty of specialised establishments where the needed specialists can be trained. We will examine the matter and take action.

Finally, coming back to your starting point, I will of course speak with [Defence Minister] Mr Shoigu. He is in India on business at the moment, but he has not gone there for good, and when he comes back I will speak to him and I think he will be able to settle this matter. We will work with industry to select a worthy site, perhaps more than one site. This is definitely something we should do. I am surprised that this has not been done yet.

Boris Levin: Mr President, I want to come back to the Council for [the Development of] Physical Culture and Sport meeting that you held in Kovrov. Some very important points were made at the meeting and there were very concrete proposals regarding developing mass sport and promoting a healthy way of life. At the forum yesterday, we discussed equally concrete measures to develop mass sport and we have some proposals in this area.

I want to give the floor to Nikolai Rand, who will give more information on this.

Nikolai Rand: Hello, Mr President.

Nikolai Rand, head of non-commercial organisation Healthy Youth.

Together with residents of Oktyabrskoye village, we have spent the last 18 months restoring a sports and park area and we want to share our experience.

Over the 18 months that our project has been underway, we rebuilt the football field, basketball court, and running tracks. Just imagine that on a site that had for decades been overtaken by weeds, there is place for at least 100 sportspeople to practice now. Children come to the stadium after school and play sport. As the father of three sons, I am well aware of how important it is to have sports facilities right there in the neighbourhood.

The federal targeted programme for developing physical fitness and sport allocates 4.5 billion rubles for rebuilding 8 big sports facilities in Crimea. Of course, it is important to develop these facilities, but just consider for a moment what we could achieve if we postponed for a short time the reconstruction of one of these facilities and use the 500 million rubles thus obtained to build 2,500 sports areas for things like workout, which is popular with young people. Just think how many people, how many youth, we would get out into the yards!

My request of you and the regional authorities is therefore to revise the allocation of these funds and make some provisions for these local sports areas.

Thank you.

Vladimir Putin: I have a proposal in response: rather than revising the programme, how about we simply add some money for these sports areas?

Nikolai Rand: Thank you very much.

Vladimir Putin: We just need to make sure that this money really be spent on these sports areas.

We set the goal of having 30 percent of the population engaged in fitness and sport by 2015. We reached a figure of just over 31 percent. This programme began at the national level back in 2008, and by 2015 we reached a pace and results even better than what we’d planned, not by much, true, but nonetheless higher than the targets we set.

Of course, we do have many problems if you take the country as a whole, especially with access to sports areas, particularly in rural districts and small towns. The situation in Crimea is no better in this respect in small towns and villages in Russia, because it seems to me that practically nothing was done in this area here. We therefore do need to take some real action. Let’s do this.

You say that you need 500 million for this work? Good, but you are aware that we have no spare money in the country. I don’t want to give the impression that we are like the sower in the famous picture, dispersing hundreds of millions with a generous hand. But I realise the urgency of the issue. This is an issue we need to address if we really want to keep our young people away from all kinds of drugs and pills. If we want to keep them away from drink and drugs, we need to give them something to keep them busy, get them involved in fitness and sport, and not just the youth but people of all ages, and for this, we need local sports facilities.

This really is a problem in Crimea, where there are few such facilities. But here, as in many other areas, we see the sense and purpose of having a public organisation like the ONF.

I ask you to work on all of this together with the regional authorities and make certain that the money is spent on exactly what the authorities have allocated it for. You must make sure that it reaches ordinary people and they see and understand that the Russian Popular Front is working with the regional and local authorities, with the federal authorities’ support, to resolve the issues that practically all families in Crimea and Sevastopol want to see resolved.

I hope that we will work together not just on this matter but also on many of the other issues we discussed today and that will come up in our ongoing work together.

Thank you. Let’s round up now.

Boris Levin: Just a minute, Mr President.

We have a legendary figure in Soviet and Crimean sport here at the forum today. You met with him in 2014. He is Rustem Kazakov, an activist in the Crimean ONF, a gold medallist at the Munich Olympics in 1972, many times world champion in Greco-Roman wrestling and holder of the title of merited master of sport.

Rustem Kazakov: Mr President, when we met in 2014, I asked you to help our fighters get the chance to take part in international competitions. You said that you would help. The result is that we now have a European champion and a second-place winner in the world championship. On behalf of our fighters, thank you very much.

Also, to speak frankly, as a fighter myself, I am proud that our country’s president also practices martial arts. I am proud, and many of our fighters are proud of you because you withstand such blows that when we watch the TV, we are amazed at how you do it and what strength of character you have. Thank you once again.

Vladimir Putin: We are all fighters and we succeed. We succeed because we have the strong spirit and great determination our forebears have handed down to us. We know this, value it, and will continue to develop it.

Thank you very much.

October 26, 2016, Yalta