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Remarks at a Meeting with Citizens of the Republic of Dagestan when Awarding Government Decorations for Valour and Dedication in Performing Their Civic Duty to Defend the Constitutional System in the Republic of Dagestan

December 29, 2000, The Grand Kremlin Palace, Moscow

Vladimir Putin: Good afternoon.

I very much wanted to meet the people of Dagestan before this year was out. Last year I was in Dagestan over the New Year holiday. This time around I don’t think I can make it, so I have asked the head of the Republic to organise this meeting.

I think we have ample grounds for discussing what has recently been done in the North Caucasus and in the Republic, and I think that the people of Dagestan have earned the right to special treatment. We remember well the events in the summer of 1999, when the people of Dagestan, people from different, mainly civilian walks of life, stood up to armed militants in very difficult conditions.

Courageous resistance to aggression – and I must say that, leaving aside strict legal formulas, it was actually an aggression by international terrorists – courageous resistance to aggression was offered not only by the law enforcement bodies of the Republic, who are obliged to do so in the line of duty. The people, the civilians blocked the way of the aggressors. And from that moment on, the militants who set their foot in the land of Dagestan were doomed to defeat in Russia as a whole. I think it was the behaviour of the people of Dagestan that determined the end result for the terrorists, the end result of their adventure. Because we know – and this was confirmed in the event – that the will of the people is stronger than arms, and the people of Dagestan have always cherished their honour and dignity, of which we saw further proof.

We can recall other sad times, we can recall tragic times: in the mid-1990s, when the people of Dagestan were helping their neighbours, the Chechen people, their brothers, and when armed people came to your land – that was a big mistake by the extremists. At that time you displayed genuine patriotism, a readiness to act effectively without sparing yourselves.

The militants used not only force and treachery; they tried to brainwash people with false promises, to speculate on their religious values, but there too they failed to deceive you. The people of Dagestan have wisdom in their blood, which sprang from years of life together in the multi-ethnic family of the peoples of Russia. It has the historical experience of living in peace and friendship. More than a hundred different peoples live in Dagestan alone. That is a tremendous experience and, by the way, not a bad example for multi-ethnic states anywhere.

Dear friends,

Your actions in the summer and autumn of 1999 made the authorities at all levels work more actively and helped to unite society in the Republic and in the country. I remember ordinary people from Dagestan making appeals on the screen. And I felt that those appeals were addressed to me, too. I remember ordinary women from Dagestan saying: “After all, do we or don’t we have a government? If you don’t want to defend us, give us weapons and we will defend ourselves.” Honestly, it made a very strong emotional impression on me, it was simply amazing.

Today you face tasks that are just as important: to heal these wounds, to restore what has been destroyed, to rebuild schools and kindergartens and mosques, and of course the homes in which people will live. I will broaden the task: I think we should speak not only about repairing the damage, we should speak about future development without reference to any terrorists. But at the time 40,000 people were left homeless as a result of the fighting. We must help these people to return to normal life. I don’t think all the problems have been solved, but I hope that much has been done.

Voice: More than 95%....

Vladimir Putin: 95%. It means that 5% has yet to be rebuilt. You know that we are working hard on this. I would like to note the big role played in the reconstruction work by the Defence Ministry and the Internal Affairs Ministry, the Emergencies Ministry, the Ministry of Public Health and the Migration Service of Russia. The State Council and the Government of Dagestan are doing a lot to restore normal life in the stricken communities and to bring refugees back. Ordinary people always grumble about people in charge at all levels, and that is right. Because it stimulates work, and there is always more work to be done. But I must also note the positive contribution of the local government to solving the problems that had to be addressed urgently then and now. That should not be overlooked.

Today we should pick up the pace of work because there is nothing to prevent the devastated infrastructure from being rebuilt quickly. Enough money has been allocated, construction materials are available, and there is an abundance of workers in the Republic, as we know well. What is needed is organisation and efficiency on the part of the authorities, both federal and local. Of course, misuse of the money is unacceptable, and the relevant government bodies and departments should see to it that the resources allocated are used as intended. The country is capable of meeting the challenges and ensuring stability and well-being in the land of Dagestan. And finally, you can always count on the help of the President’s Plenipotentiary Representative in the region, Viktor Kazantsev. He has shown himself to be a person who keeps his word.

Today is an important and a festive occasion. We will exchange opinions and then it will be my great pleasure to present decorations to Dagestani people. I know you will wear them proudly and I congratulate you from the bottom of my heart. And of course I congratulate you on the approaching year 2001; the New Year holiday is at hand. We know well that the well-being of everyone, all the families, all country residents depend on the united efforts of all the peoples of Russia.

You know, when I mentioned the decorations I will present to you today, I recalled an episode a year ago when we were in Dagestan over the New Year. A woman approached me and said: “Mr Putin, could I speak to you?” I said: “You are welcome.” “Don’t leave until you have talked with me.” I said: “With pleasure. I won’t forget.”

And I saw that she sat down humbly to wait. When we were through with Mr Magomedov, I came up to her and said: “You wanted to ask a question.” Frankly, I thought she would speak about financial problems, the need to rebuild her house or something like that. But instead she produced a newspaper and said: “You know….” I said: “What’s the problem?” “You know, my son was told that he would be awarded the title of Hero of Russia.” I said: “And?” “And they only gave him an order.” I was stunned. It speaks volumes, it shows how people feel about things that are not material but moral. And they cherish them.

So, it is not surprising that the people of Dagestan reacted as they did to the insult that was inflicted on them in the summer of 1999 by religious fanatics and terrorists. It explains a lot of things.

December 29, 2000, The Grand Kremlin Palace, Moscow