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Extracts from Address at a Meeting on Social Security Programme for Servicemen

February 22, 2000, Volgograd

Vladimir Putin: First of all, thank you very much for the opportunity to meet and talk with you, and please convey my most sincere good wishes to the people of Volgograd and gratitude for the warm reception.

I could see this warmth in the people’s faces, in their emotions on Mamayev Hill, during my visits to hospitals and when I talked with them in the street. This gave me a feeling of great satisfaction, and also of responsibility. So, I am very grateful to all the people of Volgograd.

Our meeting is taking place on the eve of February 23, the main holiday of the Russian Armed Forces, a truly nationwide holiday. But I would suggest that we broaden the scope of our conversation today and discuss not only how to provide servicemen on active duty and in retirement with flats, but look at the broader picture of the social problems faced by the Armed Forces. We should think about servicemen and their families.

The past months have clearly shown that all the talk about the collapse and diminishing combat readiness of the Armed Forces is a barefaced lie. It is unfair and disrespectful of the Armed Forces. We have no reason to be ashamed of our soldiers, officers and NCOs, especially those fighting in the North Caucasus.

The Armed Forces are fulfilling their professional and civil duty as they should. But we might question government officials of various levels: how does the state treat the defenders of the Homeland?

The social problems of servicemen have long developed from a departmental into a national problem. We are in the process of building new Armed Forces. But, of course, the focus should be on people: soldiers, officers, generals.

We have gathered here to discuss the social problems of the military: shortage of food, low salaries and allowances, frequent lack of housing, poor supply of medicines.

I have to tell you that this is particularly noticeable when you travel around the country and visit the regions, like today. That said, I must give due to the people who run the facilities that we have visited today; their standard of work is fairly high.

Housing, of course, is one of the sore problems. Today one in every five families of officers does not have a flat of its own. The situation in the North Caucasus Military District is very serious: 15,000 families do not have flats, and 6,000 do not even have official quarters. There is almost a thousand such servicemen in Volgograd and more than two thousand in the region.

We have just presented 80,000 housing certificates, which is, of course, a drop in the ocean. Obviously, the programme should be pursued further and properly financed. By the way, the guys who are undergoing treatment in hospitals have been putting these questions to me, the governor and the minister.

An issue that merits a special study is how effective the system of funding this programme is. I think the minister can report us today about this and other problems on which the future of the programme depends. Let’s face it, the number of housing certificates issued does not match the number of flats actually made available. This problem deserves a closer attention.

Provision of retired servicemen with housing is a particularly acute issue. In the Volgograd Region alone there are about six thousand families on the waiting list. The military leaders understand that unless we solve that problem there can be no reform of the Armed Forces, because one thing hinges on another.

It is not an easy problem to solve, and I would like to appeal to you, Nikolai Maksyuta, because we need help from the regional administration. For our part, we are ready to work on the problems you have just put to me. We will work on them together. But we do count on your support in addressing the issues that are being raised at this meeting today.

From our data, unfinished housing construction in the region amounts to 750,000 square meters of floorspace, of which about 600,000 is due to underfunding from the budgets of all levels. And I have to say that the work to complete these projects, including with the use of housing certificates, is not being pursued vigorously enough.

We have been planning to partly borrow from the World Bank to address the housing problems of the region. But the World Bank sets certain conditions. We have agreed to them and will try to comply with them. If we fail to comply with the programme agreed on with the World Bank, we may forfeit it, because, as far as I remember, the bulk of the money goes into the infrastructure. So we expect to be able to give help to the region in dealing with this matter, which would go a long way to solving the army problems too.

What I am going to say next is not directly connected with the housing problem, but it is a relevant issue for the region and the country as a whole.

As you know, it has been decided to permanently station the 42nd division in the Chechen Republic. The issue of accommodation is very urgent and I would very much like the first deputy finance minister to brief us on what has been done and what will be done soon to that end.

I began by mentioning the problems of money allowances. Unfortunately, compensation for food allowances is still not being paid on time.

The Finance Ministry has been instructed until the middle of the year, or the beginning of the second half of the year at the latest, to complete this work and pay all the arrears on food allowances.

As soon as that task is accomplished we will immediately address the issue of raising money allowances. It would be wrong and dishonest now, especially during the election campaign, to give promises right and left without a clear idea of how to keep them.

A few words about medicine. I would like to share my impressions of today: the people are working with real dedication, they are doing a great job and deserve respect. It was not my intention to strike a congratulatory note, but this has to be an exception.

I would like to thank the military doctors and medics who work in hospitals not only here in Volgograd, but in other hospitals across the country, treating veterans of World War II, veterans of Afghanistan and the servicemen who have been wounded in the North Caucasus.

But at the same time we should draw the attention of the military medical service and the Health Ministry to the gap between the hearts, skills and talents of our medical professionals on the one hand, and the logistics, above all the provision with the equipment at their disposal, on the other. That gap must be narrowed if we are ever to resolve this contradiction.

At present, the Defence Ministry’s medical system can only provide treatment and preventive care to servicemen and their families. But unfortunately the medical needs of the family members and the veterans are not fully met. They are met by about 40–60%.

I would like you to make a special note of this. Military medicine should occupy its befitting place in the new military establishment. It is a very important issue.

The Defence Ministry has submitted its proposals for a targeted federal programme on the development of the material and technical basis of military medical institutions. But first we should all be persuaded that another programme would really make a difference. If your Ministry, Igor Sergeyev, insists on it, the government will have no objections. But it should be a well-considered programme, everything should be absolutely precise, clear, well-calculated and formulated. It should be realistic and effective.

In identifying all these tasks I think it would be wrong to consider them separately from the legal framework, which is, of course, the law On the Status of Servicemen. We should address this document and see how it is being complied with.

In conclusion I would like to congratulate all those present, the servicemen and heads of defence enterprises. In the city of Volgograd, I think, practically all the people regard February 23, Defender of the Fatherland Day, as their very own holiday.

February 22, 2000, Volgograd