President of Russia Dmitry Medvedev: In Chukotka I’d say good evening while in Moscow it is still good morning, but in any case, hello dear colleagues!
We are meeting in Anadyr and I hope that all participants in the meeting had time to inform themselves about the current situation, there was sufficient time for this.
We continue our work on the socio-economic development of the Far Eastern regions. Naturally, today we will discuss the prospects of the Chukotka Autonomous District.
Here, as in other regions of the Far East, a variety of economic, social and demographic problems have accumulated and are very much interconnected. On the other hand, it is absolutely obvious that Russia’s geopolitical interests are at stake here. All of this increases the importance of the issues that we will look at and the decisions that we must take.
Issues relating to the quality of life, the living and working conditions of our people — in this case those in Chukotka — and particularly those of the indigenous peoples of the North, are the most important foci of our discussions.
Although much has been done, we still do not have a comprehensive strategy for the development of the Far East in its entirety. I would remind the members of the government cabinet of the Russian Federation present today that the deadline for the submission of the strategy for the socio-economic development of the Far East, the Republic of Buryatia, the Baikal and Irkutsk regions through to 2025 was 18th of June. Today is the fourth week of September. Where is the document? We must understand that delaying work on the document threatens not only work on critical issues, but also immediately affects the population’s standards of living.
Everyone is well aware what a depressed state Chukotka was in a short time ago and that this led to the depopulation and clearing out of a vast territory. It is obvious that in recent years the situation in the region began to change for the better and economic indicators were positive.
These figures are well-known. I nevertheless will cite them, because we should not only talk about problems — we still need to look at what has been done.
In 2007 the gross regional product grew by almost 12 per cent. Investment in fixed assets rose by more than 5 per cent to about 40,000 rubles per person. Both indicators are significantly higher than the Russian average.
This positive trend has affected the growth of incomes. The average monthly wage in 2007 rose a little less than 25 per cent to 34,500 rubles.
The demographic situation has also improved. Here, of course, progress is minimal, but in any case it is good that there is some change. Infant mortality is decreasing. Today we visited a hospital: a modern, new, good hospital. And it is good that this hospital is located right in a village. I also learned that infant mortality rates have been reduced by about a quarter in the region. However, according to the figures that I have it remains higher than the Russian average, even though colleagues told me today that this year the rate will be on a par with the Russian average.
The region ranks first in terms of housing provision. But this is not only due to new construction, but also to depopulation.
Of course in general terms the region has a whole range of problems. Fixed assets in the industrial sectors are deteriorating. In Housing and Communal Services almost two-thirds of the organisations are not turning a profit and there are problems with energy. Naturally this is aggravated by the fact that in the Arctic one heats on a year-round basis.
Given that we are meeting just before the onset of winter, I would like to hear more at today's meeting about the preparedness of households for the winter season in general.
This meeting is to be the first of a series of meetings on the Far East. Of course we will be evaluating the situation in all of these regions, but we wanted to start with Chukotka.
Furthermore, it is clear that the main factors hindering the dynamic development of the region, in addition to the traditional factors, are the absence or inefficiency of normal transport and energy infrastructure. There are no railways here, no medium or large fleet, no full-fledged, advanced system of air transportation, which the district requires. Only a third of the roads are paved.
It is clear that such problems cannot be resolved within the district alone. As in other Far East regions where the situation is the same, they can be resolved only by major investment projects for the development of the road and rail network. There is a need to develop both small and mini aircraft, as well as coastal shipping, which has always played a role in the territories of the Far North.
With regard to energy, in the near future there are different ways to resolve the issues of delivery of electricity to the consumer. When we were looking today at the various regions of Chukotka, we talked a bit about this, the idea of using wind power to create electricity. But in all likelihood this will not be a panacea. That said, it can certainly be regarded as one of a series of available options. There is also the question of using renewable energy sources.
I just wanted to say that all projects of this kind would require the introduction and application of modern technologies necessary for the development of new mineral deposits, and technology for the development of remote areas. Ultimately, this should improve the business climate in the region. In general, in the long run, by getting rid of infrastructural constraints we can ensure that Chukotka becomes fully integrated with other Far East regions and, ultimately, this should lead to the modernisation of an entire way of life.
Another issue that is of strategic importance, not only to Chukotka but for the entire Far East, is the effective development of the Arctic. At a meeting of the Security Council we recently took up the subject of intensifying our work in the Arctic area. Chukotka can and should play a role in these processes, by reassuming its role as a key link in the North Sea route. Here we can talk about port infrastructure and the possibility of year-round access, provided of course that we have icebreaking escorts. It is clear that the use of the ports of Chukotka deserves separate attention and special study by the government cabinet.
There is another issue that is inextricably bound up with these, the problem of the development of small groups of indigenous peoples in the North.
Chukotka is currently home to almost 17,000 representatives of these peoples. Virtually the entire territory is part of their traditional lands, the place where they go about their ordinary activities and husbandry. And of course our task is to safeguard the way of life and culture of indigenous peoples. And to do so by integrating them into the dynamics of modern life, creating additional conditions for normal life, raising their living standards. As with any work of this kind, this task requires systemic solutions. Perhaps the most important thing is to consolidate the situation with federal funding from the target programme: Economic and Social Development of Indigenous Peoples of the North until 2011. The situation in this sense is very uneven. For the data that I have, we have funded some things but not others. We need to correct this situation.
In addition, it is necessary to support small business, which is an effective way of helping preserve the traditional lifestyles of indigenous peoples.
The reorientation of the federal target programme Economic and Social Development of the Far East and Trans-Baikal until 2013 is important as well. It should include a number of social and industrial infrastructure facilities for places where representatives of indigenous ethnic groups live. I am referring to the reconstruction of things such as boiler rooms, homes, other infrastructure, schools, orphanages and medical facilities.
I know that at their own initiative the Ministry of Regional Development is developing the Concept of Sustainable Development of Indigenous Peoples of the North, Siberia and the Far East. I think that Dmitry Nikolaevich [Kozak, Minister of Regional Development] will be able to give us a more detailed report on this subject.
The last thing I want to discuss is the issue of the expansion of tourism infrastructure, the need for which is continuously growing in the region. Naturally, this is due to the unique nature of this area and the proximity of countries in which people are interested in the development of Chukotka's tourism opportunities.
And, finally, the very last thing. I said that our meeting this evening marks the first in a series of meetings on the Far East. As a result of the work we are doing here, I will be putting together a set of directives, a single set of directives for all these regions. I would therefore request that all participants in the meeting go about their work on that basis.
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It is interesting to visit Chukotka. And not only because in the entire history of Russia the head of the country has never been here – although as an indication of the state's level of interest this is always an important indicator – but also and perhaps above all to see with my own eyes the problems that exist in the region and to study its achievements. We must not ignore them, because it has to be said that the situation in some of the neighbouring regions is much worse.
Now with regard to a few of the major points we have discussed. Concerning development scenarios, I have already talked about this and would like to summarise the main points. We do not have three scenarios. We can consider different scenarios in the abstract. But if we talk about the fate of the region, which has not only an important economic and social value — because people live here, as they do in other regions of the Russian Federation – but great cross-border political importance as well, we have only one scenario — a scenario for developing the region and refusing to allow it to stagnate, or (even worse) allowing its productive forces to depart and its projects to fail. This being the case, we need to make a lot of decisions quickly. The argument about the need to join one concept with another, advanced by Dmitry Nikolaevich [Kozak, Minister of Regional Development], I can only support in part. Because we can take as long as we want to decide on the major concepts, but business interests must not suffer as a result of this. We may revise the terms of the Concept 2020. We are now in the midst of a worldwide financial crisis. So should we undertake nothing in the interim? Simply wait until everything has been resolved? We have to quickly finalise the concept and adopt it, not wait until we have created a larger vision. Even to implement larger visions, we need to make decisions very soon.
I support in general the idea of using an investment fund for the development of the region. I am not opposed to the exploration of the idea of special economic zones, but we really do know the risks associated with them, and we know that we do not need such zones in every region of the Federation. The issue has not been removed from the agenda, but it seems to me that using the investment fund approach for the large projects that have been discussed here, with all its opportunities to attract private capital, seems most appropriate.
Now, on selected items, which might at first glance seem small but are actually very important.
Pavel Vasilyevich [Sulyandziga, first vice president of the Chukotka regional public organisation Russian Association of Indigenous Peoples of the North, Siberia and the Far East] said that in the Amur region the small nations had not won any quotas for hunting grounds. I would like the plenipotentiary representative [of the President in the Far Eastern Federal District] to review the situation and report. Because if cheating has been allowed there, we need to put up this barrier. I am thinking of the larger context: in the Amur region and in the Primorsky region. We simply must ensure that concerning all these points in all these regions, the plenipotentiary representative in the federal district takes control of such auctions, and that these quotas be distributed in accordance with the law.
I agree that we should look at the mechanism for implementing the law on traditional land use. The government cabinet should look at which mechanisms work in such a situation and might even resuscitate some of the points made in the relevant laws. Because the law itself does not guarantee anything– we need to have a look at how it works.
As to the idea of the annexation of one region to another: dear colleagues, the firm position of the federal government and my position is as follows: we are not going to annex any region to any other, and we will never attempt to implement such ideas. If a region is self-sufficient or developing as a self-sufficient region and does not want to become part of another — and the will to do such a thing can be determined only by referendum — the region should continue its development as a full member of the Russian Federation. There can be no other approach to such a question. This simply follows from the fact that large regions and small regions have to exist side by side. Mere arithmetical approaches won't work here.
Now, with regard to our visit to the reindeer herding. This was indeed a useful visit, because to see for oneself the difficult circumstances in which this work is carried out is important for any leader. Federal subsidies. As I recall these 252 rubles, this supplement, appeared somewhat a couple of years ago. I personally had a hand in this, because this supplement was part of a national project. I know that this is not a lot, and the Ministry of Finance agrees, which is why we had to look at the whole situation in context (we maintained our position on the northern reindeer herding and drove breeding of horses): how many people are employed in this industry in the country, not just in Chukotka? We have to look carefully at the numbers at which we will arrive. If it turns out to be 1025 rubles, let's make a decision. Let's look at the origins of this.
I think that this is related to other things too. Well, today we looked at a yaranga [tent-like mobile home for nomads], and in general talked a lot about housing. I know that there is a special kind of labour here. Therefore we need to consider just what this housing might look like in the 21st century. Even in traditional housing there should be a minimum of amenities. It is unacceptable that here among our friends, our colleagues, there are no phones, no TV. These are now an integral part of civilisation. People have cameras and were taking pictures of everybody. They have phones, but no wireless connection. I don't mean by this that we must immediately drag in a mobile communications link, but simply that we need to consider how to make provisions for their everyday existence. And there are more important issues — diesel generators, for example. This is generally an integral part of any civilisation. Protective clothing. Of course these are all things that need to be considered at the federal and regional levels. Well, obviously they should be part of the process undertaken by the Affordable Housing project.
Of course salaries are an important part of the overall situation. We looked at subsidies. This includes reindeer and the fishing industry, as Yuri Mikhailovich [Tototto, member of the presidium of the Chukotka regional public organisation Russian Association of Indigenous Peoples of the North, Siberia and the Far East] mentioned. Because of course salaries are very low in the northern areas, just above the level of bare subsistence. We need to think about the mechanisms for this kind of fishery subsidy.
Dear colleagues, that is what I wanted to say in broad outline. Let me reiterate that I think our meeting was useful and our visit very informative. Of course I will issue all the necessary directives that derive from this work. In fact this has already been done since the leadership of the government was at this meeting, the important ministries, the first deputy Prime Minister and other colleagues. But we will go over these directives again, revising them in light of the problems that exist in other regions. Now we move to the Magadan region, then we are going to engage with Kamchatka – we will come out of this with a full set of directives for the Far East.
And finally there is perhaps one last thing that I would like to say. The federal leadership, the leadership of the Russian government, ministers, heads of departments, anyone responsible for making decisions – they all must go to the Far East regularly. And now this practice has been restored. There must be a better way of finding solutions to basic problems than convening a meeting under the leadership of the President. I still recall how, nearly two years ago, I travelled to Koryak Autonomous District with a huge number of officials – there were probably twenty of us — to take immediate action in a very difficult situation. Here we are now discussing questions of basic functioning with you, and there we were dealing with an earthquake. And in order to build, frankly, a very small number of homes — several dozen homes – we had to involve a huge number of officials. What does this mean? It means that the people who immersed themselves in these problems simply did not understand them. Neither constructing methods, nor an understanding of the situation. For in order to address these issues you need to dig into the problem. And to dig in, you have to be in shape. It means you have to travel, take the necessary measures, put yourself in contact with the regional authorities and with the district authorities. And then the result will not be slow in coming. I wish you all success and I look forward to our next meeting.