President of Russia Vladimir Putin: Mr Gladkov, good afternoon,
Belgorod Region Governor Vyacheslav Gladkov: Good afternoon.
Vladimir Putin: Mr Gladkov, under your guidance the Belgorod Region is showing very good results of sustainable, steady development. This is reflected in the objective data on the growth of gross regional product, industrial production, construction and investment.
However, there are of course some issues that need special attention. But I suggest beginning our conversation with security issues, helping people, and talking about the work of the operational headquarters under your leadership.
Go ahead, please.
Vyacheslav Gladkov: Thank you very much. I agree with you, Mr President that today the issues of security related to the operational situation is the biggest concern. People are most worried about this.
Since April 2022, we declare a yellow level of terrorist threat every two weeks after subversive attacks by Ukraine. In 15 residential areas, we have declared a municipal emergency. People do not live there with the exception of a few dozen who refuse to leave. Of course, we work with them every day, trying to reduce this number. But about 6,500 people are already de facto refugees in the Belgorod Region. Some of them live in temporary accommodation centres. We have put them in Belgorod hotels, in sanatoriums and health and recreation resorts. I am grateful to the governors of the Moscow and Tula regions. About a thousand people left for these regions and were made very welcome there.
In accordance with your executive order, we enforced a medium response mode in the region since last October. We have established the operational headquarters that I am in charge of. It includes all the security agencies that are quartered in the Belgorod Region, starting with the Defence Ministry.
Please allow me to report on what we are doing today.
(The Governor spoke about the mobilisation effort in the region, including support to families of mobilised personnel and payments to wounded personnel and surviving families of mobilised troops in addition to the amounts paid out by the Defence Ministry.)
We are making the same payments to civilians as well. I reported to you that Ukraine – the enemy – is using artillery fire against civilian localities resulting in 25 fatalities and 96 residents wounded. We are paying them the same amount of money from the budget as military personnel. I think this is fair.
Literally from the first days of mobilisation, we created military family support centres. We first opened them in Belgorod with trained psychologists on staff. We understand that the women were confused when it all began and needed to talk it out. It is more for them than just coming to a government office. They need to have someone to talk to.
When we saw that we had more than 2,000 visitors within the first three weeks, we realised that people needed it. We replicated this project in all municipalities for a total of 22 such centres. Since the women were asking lots of questions about their husbands and sons’ clothing and meals, we came up with regulations for each centre. I used to be a sergeant-major at a military school, and I still remember what regulations are. I went to every centre and checked things out. My meal inspections were unannounced, so I know what they eat. There was not a single complaint about food. We displayed regulations and photographs from military canteens at the centres for everyone to see.
In fact, we are at the frontline and we know what our troops need to feel a little more comfortable. I am talking about things like polyurethane boots which keep feet warm at 20 below zero. These boots are inexpensive and popular with hunters. We bought large quantities of these boots. We also bought sheepskin combat boots from Daghestan. I called the head of Daghestan. They fast tracked them to us and we paid up. Great footwear. It keeps cold air out and has a durable sole. There are 22 items in all.
Plus, of course, we sent them some equipment. We asked the people at the Defence Ministry, the FSB, border guards, the National Guard, and other special forces what they needed in terms of additional equipment. We have come up with a list of 32 items to meet the needs of a motorised rifle platoon and are sending supplies accordingly. Training has been underway for a month or two now, and they now know what kind of quadcopters, rangefinders, binoculars, or walkie-talkies they need. This is where we step in.
Another initiative came practically from the people. A deputy from the regional Duma reached out to me and suggested that mobilised personnel should keep receiving their regular civilian salaries. Here is what we have done in this regard. There is absolutely no coercion, we are not forcing anyone to do anything, but what we do is talk with employers and let them know that the mobilised employees are risking their lives to defend [the country] with weapons in hands. Today, 90 percent of the mobilised employees are receiving their average salaries. That way, they have kept their jobs and average salaries.
Vladimir Putin: At their most recent place of work?
Vyacheslav Gladkov: Yes, correct. Some of the mobilised personnel were unemployed, so we took it upon ourselves and are paying them the minimum wage from the budget. There are about 100–150 employees left who are not covered yet. I made it clear to them that I am not in a position to tell their employers what to do, I am not entitled to do so, but I will keep talking to them and I think I will eventually convince them that their civic duty is to keep payments coming. I believe we have done a good job so far.
There is another initiative I wanted to report on. When Ukraine started shelling in September, particularly in Shebekino, when the first serious civilian sites, shopping centres, pharmacies were damaged, when we started having victims among children and women, there were many requests from men who would not otherwise be drafted due to wounds or age. These are people who have gone through several local wars and understand what it is like, but they are not subject to mobilisation. So, we spread the word, to see who would respond. More than 3,000 people volunteered. As of today, we have a fully formed regiment. Of course, “regiment” is just a name. Its commander is our governor’s advisor. There are seven battalions stationed locally. Every week they train. I requested instructors from the Ministry of Defence and I am very grateful to Deputy Defence Minister Yunus-Bek Yevkurov. We are starting slowly, with strategic training, military training, drone handling and mine warfare training. I think it is the right thing to do. If you allow me, I would like to address you once again on this matter later.
Vladimir Putin: All right.
Vyacheslav Gladkov: What challenges do we have as of today? Of course, in addition to 25 victims, we have 96 wounded people. The damage is extensive, affecting around 2,500 residential buildings and flats.
(The governor spoke about compensation for destroyed housing. Businesses have formed a housing restoration fund to cover everything down to interiors and essential furniture.)
Vyacheslav Gladkov: We have restored almost 2,000 buildings and flats, 500 still under restoration. There are also residential buildings close to the border, from which residents were evacuated. Unfortunately, we cannot approach them as they are under continuous fire. But they have also been damaged. We had to cut the gas and power supply. Those were homes of people with low incomes. This housing is crumbling because it is winter.
Vladimir Putin: Yes, of course.
Vyacheslav Gladkov: We continue with major repairs on the buildings damaged by shelling, including roofs and interiors. We have some money, however, we cannot afford to build new housing, to restore and build new housing for the evacuees from the border towns.
I reported to senior officials at the Presidential Executive Office. Mr Kiriyenko, Mr Oreshkin, and representatives of several federal agencies and ministries have visited the sites. There was a big meeting. A protocol was drafted on measures that the commission sees necessary to resolve this problem. I believe this is very important right now.
I consistently meet with evacuated residents. They are staying at a 4-star hotel in central Belgorod, with four meals a day and bed linen provided. But they are used to rural life. It is one thing to stay for a week or two but a completely different thing when you have to stay for 11 months. Of course, they are exhausted. They are used to working on their land.
Therefore, I would like to ask for your assistance in allocating funds to build housing for this category of residents because the budget of the Belgorod Region cannot afford it.
(The governor also asked for financial support to balance the region’s budget. He mentioned support for the businesses affected by the bombing in Shebekino.)
Vyacheslav Gladkov: Several proposals will be sent to the Governmental commission, which I would like to ask support for.
I wanted to report that people are behaving bravely. I am new in the region; I have been working there for two years; before that I did not live there. Of course, I take great pride in our people, the fact that they can take a hit. A region with highly developed agriculture; last year was very successful, and weak knees can lead to consequences. They do not tremble, and they can take a hit.
We have formed a volunteer squad in each settlement and are guarding them together with the police. There are a lot of positive results both in terms of crime, and also against the enemy.
Volunteer fire brigades made it possible to save the harvest despite the shelling from Ukraine. We reduced the number of fires three and a half times thanks to the high level of monitoring by the volunteers, which was at a high level.
We are working with people’s behaviour in emergency situations, under shelling. First, we are working with children. A boy of about 7 years old in the village of Urazovo – I went there one night – said he was sitting there playing on his computer, while his little sister was crawling on the floor nearby, and the shelling began, he ran, then, he says, he remembered what they had been taught, took his sister to the bathroom, and lay down there, and actually saved their lives, both his own and his sister’s. Well done!
We are also working cautiously; there are minefields along the 540 kilometres of the state border. We understand that this protects people, but, on the other hand, of course, it is very dangerous.
Vladimir Putin: Of course.
Vyacheslav Gladkov: We are teaching people how to act in the border area; we are working in shelters, putting signs on residential buildings, distributing keys to cellars at every entrance. And, of course, we are working on lighting, on putting the basements in order.
We have worked on the situation with a concentration of passenger transport, for unforeseen situations. The situation in September showed that we can call for passenger transport within an hour in order to solve any task the Ministry of Defence sets, based on the operational situation.
I would like to ask you now for assistance in providing us with funds for the purchase of school buses, because the border area, this is actually dual-use transport.
Vladimir Putin: I see.
Vyacheslav Gladkov: Both for schools and for emergencies, new school buses would help a bit to solve this problem, too.
Today children in schools and kindergartens study remotely in 11 of our municipalities; over 50 public facilities are affected, including 16 schools. Children are our priority. Interaction with the Ministry of Education is comprehensive; they were able to postpone the exams from December to January, and they moved the children carefully on buses. There were no incidents.
On the other hand, we are worried about the quality of education, but we proceed from the fact that safety is the most important thing. We value the lives of the children.
Some people have moved their children to other regions, to settlements a little further north. They also study remotely.
There were difficult situations in September – I also wanted to report as part of the operational headquarters’ activities.
There were UAV attacks on the power grid. How did we respond? According to law, we have to provide power to central district hospitals, for example, only surgery theatres and intensive care units. But we have covered the entire hospital with a backup power supply because we understand that we have over 90,000 children living in the border area. We will not get by with one surgery or intensive care unit, so we have resolved this problem.
We have ensured reserve energy supplyto the entire border water and sewage systems – both for water supply and discharge. It is clear that we will not be able to go without water. We have worked out our own system of additional protection for substations and power supply facilities: we are building a concrete wall and anti-drone nets. The situation in September, October and November 2022 showed that this approach is effective. Even when high-precision weapons were fired at both the centre of Belgorod and the substations, these walls made it possible to reduce the damage to the power system. The electricity industry workers are doing a great job; they are working very hard.
Vladimir Putin: Yes, they are fast.
Vyacheslav Gladkov: Very fast.
What else are we doing? We are building defense structures. I will report separately at the end, if you allow me.
Vladimir Putin: Yes, of course.
Vyacheslav Gladkov: And of course, we try to talk directly to the people in the local governments, the heads of municipalities and village administrations as much as possible, because there is a great need for quick and reliable information. Because there is a massive information war waged against the region: ”Tanks will come tomorrow,“ ”Belgorod will be overrun tomorrow,“ ”Tomorrow you will be showered by shells and bombs, run away.“ There were all kinds of stories. But if in the first months, especially in April, people were not prepared for this situation, now there is understanding and the ability to distinguish the truth from a lie.
Vladimir Putin: Our people are not easily fooled, given their nature.
Vyacheslav Gladkov: Yes, a hundred percent. This is why we are trying to be quick here. We have set up a 24-hour news block. Even when the air defence system is working. The first toast in our region now is ”To the Air Defence Forces!“ Glasses are raised to those men who protect the sky, protect the people. People see this, they are very appreciative. They are heroes, of course.
I have met with many unit commanders, with the rank and file. Of course, they are great, they work professionally.
Vladimir Putin: Anything is possible, but practical combat operations show that Russia's air defense is one of the best in the world. As I have said, the missiles that the US produces for the Patriot system, our country makes three times as many, even more than three times as many. And as for air defense missiles in general, for various purposes, Russian production is comparable to total world production. And apart from everything else, of course, our systems themselves are modern and reliable. Of course, anything can happen, but on the whole, the system is working properly.
Vyacheslav Gladkov: Of course, I am asking for help, Mr President. Farmers have problems; in 2022 there were problems with the shelling of agricultural enterprises. Most of our farms are strong, and the farms took on the costs. There are farmers who have suffered, but we have only managed to help some of them. There is an action plan on this in the list of instructions.
We do not want to stop developing because we are a highly developed region with a well-developed economy, and this difficult situation should not prevent this. The Belgorod Region has always had ambitious goals, so today we are implementing about 30 investment projects worth over 250 billion rubles.
Presidential Aide Maxim Oreshkin toured some of our companies and was convinced that they have set ambitious goals – to produce sweet proteins, high-powered aerial vehicles, vegetable meat… and many other projects, including in the mining and metallurgical industry – companies like Metallinvest, Novolipetsk Iron and Steel Works, Severstal, they also have large projects to modernise manufacturing.
Of course, we hope for help from the federal government, because jobs are needed, they are important.
And one more minute, please.
Vladimir Putin: Your unemployment rate is lower than the national average.
Vyacheslav Gladkov: I think we will see 0.5 percent this year, one of the lowest rates in the country. Of course, we want the region to develop.
There is one more problem, Mr President. The shelling is really scary, although the people are holding on. We estimate that about 300 people have left the healthcare system, including 80 doctors and about 220 paramedics. They sold their apartments and left the region. We have a large programme to purchase housing for doctors, to work with the medical university, with colleges. We did not have any shortage, and so far, everything is in working order. But we understand that this challenge might continue. And in order to retain… First of all, what are the critical jobs? These, of course, include healthcare and social security. One of the issues to consider is the possibility of additional payment benefits for these two categories, for people who work in the border areas. Doctors have a dual function in terms of work with the civilian population. And, of course, social security. Because they work primarily with the older population, this work is also of paramount importance to us.
Vladimir Putin: I would like to thank your entire team for working stably, consistently and generally effectively in today's difficult conditions. Everything you have said – in fact, we have repeatedly discussed this over the telephone – is actually happening in real life. I mean, all your measures aimed at stabilising the situation are effective, and I think that the experience gained will be useful in any case.
I would like to thank you all for this.
Let us look at the documents.