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Official website of the President of Russia

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Opening remarks at a meeting of the Russian Interior Ministry’s Board

January 21, 2000, Moscow

Vladimir Putin: Distinguished colleagues,

We last gathered together for a meeting of the Interior Ministry’s Board two months ago. The attention we are now paying to the work of law enforcement agencies is not accidental. It is directly related to a raft of problems that are of direct concern to your ministry today.

One of the “hot spots” of your activity is, of course, the counter-terrorist operation in Chechnya. I would like to thank all those who used to be or are now engaged in difficult and dangerous work there for their self-control, their honest and dedicated service, great efforts, and the feeling of confidence in the final result that permeates everything we are doing in the North Caucasus. This is very important.

I would like to avail myself of this opportunity to introduce you to Sergei Yastrzhembsky, a new presidential aide. He will concern himself with the coordination of information work. This is all the more important because as large groups of militants are eliminated and scattered, our work will be increasingly focused on bringing life back to normal. This will take some time. A considerable part of this effort will be shouldered by you. Therefore, neither today nor in the near future will the intensity of the information battle lessen, either inside the country or abroad.

It is my sincere hope that you will give him the necessary help, and he in turn will assist us in achieving the objectives before us. I would like to praise the ministry’s role in organising and running the campaign to elect the State Duma. It is common knowledge that you worked closely with the Central Election Commission, the tax police and other law enforcement agencies and did a lot to stop the infiltration of criminal elements into the legislative branch.

I hope this experience will come in handy in the upcoming presidential campaign as well. And I believe that our actions will be legally justified and politically credible.

The last thing is particularly important, because people are now speculating more and more about an “iron hand” and a “looming dictatorship.” This is a stone thrown at us. In such a situation we should move tactfully and give no reason for a return of public fears or any doubts about our ethics and integrity.

This talk is clearly groundless and largely prompted by the election in the country. Nevertheless I urge you to remember the main thing: basic values – the protection of the individual and his civil rights and freedoms – must be central to all the work of the country’s law enforcement system.

Interior Ministry bodies must live up to this goal and, while obeying nothing but the law, look after people’s safety and ensure a calm atmosphere in their homes, on the streets and at their places of work.

Now about the core point – what worries us most in our fight against crime.

Statistics show convincingly that the current surge in crime has not yet stopped. Criminality remains a real threat to Russia.

Of course, the worsening of the crime situation has natural causes, and we know them. These are the critical situation in the economy, social evils and political instability. Growing poverty of the majority of the people and unemployment have become our reality.

As I have said already: we are not one of the world’s wealthiest countries, but we are one of the most wasteful. Or, one might say, the most economically careless. In this context our first concern should be not just efforts to boost the economy and improve the welfare of ordinary people, but also to fight increasing criminal trends in the country’s economy. Criminality holds back the development of business, the state and property.

You know that last year saw a 20% rise in economic offences. Most of them were reported in the financial and credit area, alcohol production and sales, the fuel and energy sector, and foreign trade in general. Crimes in the financial and credit area alone caused 5.4 billion roubles in material damages.

At our last meeting, we had a fairly detailed discussion on these subjects. We should give more thought to coordinating actions with the country’s financial and economic agencies, including the government.

Here is one example: right after the government clamped down on the sale of alcohol-containing liquid (which was largely used to make counterfeit vodka) a number of regions petitioned in letters signed by top regional ministers among others for increased quotas on industrial alcohol – a rise of 720% to 1,000%. What is behind this move: the real requirements of industry or the needs of swindlers? I must tell you it is not always possible to sort such things out, and without your help it is hard to do so, even relying on Economics Ministry statistics. So I call upon you to work more cooperatively with the government in this respect.

Certainly, overall figures are very important. And so is current day-to-day work. But we all know that mass and random checks of businessmen’s affairs are ineffective and take time and effort. The ultimate result should not only be tighter economic discipline, but also strengthening the position of market-players, who must be confident of their current status and their future.

When fifteen agencies take turns checking the same organisations, this is no good; it gives businessmen the jitters and creates an inordinate amount of stringent control.

An urgent task facing us now is, of course, to rid the economy of criminal elements. And this means not only using legal means to free it from the grip of the underground world, but really helping it to get out of the “shadows” and eliminating the need for people to use the services of dishonest officials and all sorts of “fronts”.

Also, the effective functioning of courts of law and prosecutors is important in all respects. People experience red tape, unwarranted delays and undisguised rudeness. These are perennial problems of any bureaucratic system. We know that this is nothing new. As before, there are many cases in which interior bodies have turned down a citizen’s request to open a criminal investigation. As a result, legal nihilism grows, and fewer people believe in authorities and justice.

The struggle against organised crime and corruption tops the list of priorities. It is these kinds of crime that eat most fiercely into the country’s economy, discredit bodies of state authority and erode Russia’s international reputation.

Another important factor is that the constantly operating channels for the illegal export of capital from the country are run largely by organised crime. The relevant figures are well known: they have been cited at previous meetings and today, too. The measures being taken in this direction have so far been unable to reverse the trend.

In addition, the growth of organised crime unavoidably breeds corruption. An anti-corruption ideology must become an organic part of the of the entire legislative system. What needs to be done is to work out an effective system for the declaration of incomes and spending by individuals, above all civil servants. Naturally, it is necessary to encourage the State Duma to more quickly pass federal laws on the fight against organised crime, the fight against graft, and other laws. I understand that this is not your job. I am simply speaking in the context of the problem we are discussing.

Terrorism poses a special danger to every person and the country as a whole. To be fair, we underestimated this threat. We underestimated its strong material and financial base, and the extensive international ties of terrorists and their cruelty.

Our determined moves in the North Caucasus have forestalled the threat of the country’s disintegration and the spread of the virus of separatism and extremism. But most important of all, tens of thousands of our countrymen, Russian citizens, have been freed from the sway of a criminal regime.

Today the question is one of completely eliminating criminal groups in Chechnya, restoring its social and economic infrastructure, and bringing its refugees back. To do so, it is essential that bodies of state authority, including law enforcement agencies, should be set up there in the shortest time possible.

You will be in the first ranks of those who, upon the completion of the main or armed stage of the operation, will be tasked with restoring peaceful life step by step, and most important of all, to free people from the fear in which they have lived for many years.

I would also like to draw your attention to the following: recall what happened in Moscow, Buinaksk and other Russian cities, and when it happened. That occurred after we hit them hard in Dagestan. It was after that, feeling they were powerless, that they committed criminal acts in the larger cities of Russia.

I want to warn you, comrades: the situation now emerging is very much like that one. We are now finally finishing off the criminals in Chechnya. And the danger of terrorism is increasing again. I would like you to pay close attention to that. I understand you have worked and are working hard. I know the burden your personnel are bearing throughout the country. But do the people facing bullets in Chechnya have it any easier? No, they have it harder. So I appeal to you to stand shoulder to shoulder, understand what is happening in the country, and do your utmost to wipe out the terrorist threat, but do not let them grab us by the throat by capturing hostages, some major transport or infrastructure hubs, and so on and so forth. Please be on the lookout. The danger of such actions is increasing and will exist until we finally destroy all terrorist bases. Please do not be complacent. Relevant and more accurate information is available from the Interior Ministry, the Defence Ministry and the Federal Security Service.

I would also like to deal separately with trafficking in illegal drugs. They are spreading in this country like an epidemic. And although crime statistics point to some degree of success, it is understandable that the real picture is different. Despite the fact that some 50 tonnes of narcotics were seized last year, we must admit that the situation is only slightly under control.

Some new trends have appeared in this field. The most dangerous of them is a shift in the consumption and distribution of narcotics from soft to hard drugs, above all heroin and synthetic narcotics.

What progress has there been since the commission was set up? Are we better off working with young people, who use most of the drugs?

A few words about other problems which are important to you.

The material well-being of Interior Ministry personnel remains a sore spot. I am referring to housing, wages, salaries and other benefits. The 2000 budget provides for a substantial increase in spending on the ministry bodies.

Not everything that can be has been done yet. Problems abound.

But all that should be considered in light of the state’s actual possibilities.

There are also other issues that we must not ignore, and among them are our relations with the veterans’ movement. We should know about, have a feel for and react quickly to veterans’ problems. This is a key factor in education: young people should know that if they dedicate their lives to the bodies of the Interior Ministry, the state will not forget them.

We should particularly focus on the growth of regional crime. We must analyse why the figure has surged by 30% in Tatarstan, Ingushetia, and the Orenburg and Kostroma regions. Or why only six areas – Primorye, Moscow, the Moscow Region, Altai and the Tomsk and Perm regions – account collectively for one third of all criminal attacks across the country. What’s the reason? There’s surely a reason. The areas differ from each other, but the attacks share a single cause. Ethnic organised crime is particularly rampant not only in Moscow and St Petersburg, but also in the Far East, the Urals and the Volga area. Some cities are actually Russia’s criminal capitals.

In conclusion, I would like to thank you for your work, and wish you a belated Happy New Year and all the best.

January 21, 2000, Moscow