President of Russia Vladimir Putin: Mr Rocca, good afternoon.
I am delighted to welcome you. Thank you for being with us on this day and for your visit to Russia.
As you know, the UN General Assembly established International Volunteer Day in 1985, while Russia began celebrating it five years ago. I would like to note that over that period, the Russian volunteer movement has become strong and respectable, and really has a serious impact on humanitarian aspects of life in Russia.
You know about the #WeAreTogether campaign, which has been active in Russia for more than two years – sadly – during the pandemic. It has now evolved into a nationwide movement. Hundreds of thousands of people are involved and they have already helped 6.5 million people. We do our best to support such undertakings and activities. I know that you, too, took part in this work. Thank you very much for that.
For my part, I have also met with volunteers today – just before joining you I met with the winners of state decorations. I awarded the person who won the [2021 Volunteer of the Year] contest, a paediatrician at one of the medical centres. I just heard young people – they are all young people – tell me how they do their work, what tracks they are moving on, and what they see as their priorities. All this certainly makes the most favourable impression.
Mr Rocca, we have been working fruitfully for a long time with your organisation, with the Red Cross and Red Crescent. This federation makes a significant and sizeable contribution to the development of that very humanitarian aspect of which I just spoke. We know how much attention you personally give to these matters.
Next year, in 2022, we will celebrate the 155th anniversary of the Russian Red Cross Society, and we will certainly make every effort to ensure that this date is celebrated deservingly. I am confident that the Russian Red Cross will also fulfil its mandate in good faith, selflessly serving people and developing cooperation with its colleagues and partners from other countries. I know that the International Federation of Red Cross and Crescent Societies, which you lead, spans 192 countries – a very large and respectable organisation. Such broad interaction between different states contributes to the effective promotion of programmes in healthcare, social services and disaster relief.
The humanitarian mission of the Red Cross is extremely significant for all of humanity, especially now in the context of the pandemic. We understand this perfectly and are fully aware of this. The fundamental principles of the Red Cross movement – humanism and impartiality – are indeed the driving force for achieving results in all other aspects of interaction in the international arena and creating a special atmosphere for people to better understand each other and to join forces to stand up to the challenges humanity is facing. There is no need to list them now; there are many of them. Your activity will certainly help to ensure that they are solved in the best possible way.
We are happy to see you and we hope that our interaction with your organisation will continue in the nearest future, as well as in the medium and long term.
We are delighted to see you in Russia.
President of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies Francesco Rocca (retranslated): Thank you, Mr President. Thank you very much. Thank you for finding the time to meet with me.
For me, it is a great honour to be able to discuss humanitarian priorities and challenges with you. This is also a wonderful opportunity to meet with Deputy Prime Minister Tatyana Golikova. I have already met with Healthcare Minister Mikhail Murashko, and tomorrow, I will meet with Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Vershinin and Acting Minister for Civil Defence, Emergencies and Natural Disaster Relief Alexander Chupriyan. For me, it was a great honour to attend the International Forum of Civic Engagement We Are Together, which you mentioned.
I met with volunteers, and we discussed key priorities. I heard their stories, and this is important; such events are very important for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies and for the Russian Red Cross Society.
I am aware of the humanitarian needs and challenges facing the humanitarian sectors both in Russia and all over the world. I know that the Russian Federation is involved in humanitarian peacekeeping efforts in all regions of the world. Russia supports people who are vulnerable, and this is wonderful and very important work.
We are grateful to Russian authorities and the people of Russia for your contribution to combating the COVID-19 pandemic.
As the biggest global humanitarian organisation, we are concerned that the humanitarian situation is becoming more and more complicated in many countries around the world. Millions of people suffer from national and global humanitarian challenges, including the COVID-19 pandemic, the forcible relocation of people, the climate crisis, natural calamities and industrial accidents. Unfortunately, they are happening increasingly often. Mr President, you are well aware of this.
Our biggest strength is our volunteer network, volunteers at national levels, at the levels of Red Cross societies all over the world. These societies have wonderful experience of work in these spheres. We are delighted that the Russian Red Cross Society also works actively as a humanitarian organisation. It is our strong member, and we strive to reinforce and strengthen its potential, so that it would make an even greater contribution to our common work.
Mr President, you may know that many positive changes took place at the Russian Red Cross this year. In particular, its leadership has changed, giving way to a new young team. They are very energetic and determined people. Our society has attained considerable results in strengthening the capability of the Russian Red Cross to provide humanitarian aid to vulnerable groups of people. We would like the Russian Red Cross to be a strong partner and a strong member of our organisation, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, to remain Russia’s main humanitarian organisation and to continue to help settle humanitarian problems, including in Russia.
We believe that the Russian Federation is a highly committed country when it comes to humanitarian response measures. The Russian Red Cross is a strategic partner for our federation. I am convinced that the Russian Federation and the Russian Red Cross can and will play a major role at the global level. Mr President, we are trying to strengthen our interaction both at the national and at the global level. We believe that you can play a more important role in the humanitarian field. We are ready to expand our joint efforts.
Mr President, I would like to address the issues I planned to discuss with you today, if I may.
The first such issue is the COVID-19 pandemic, which is still with us. I would like to mention our efforts to deal with its humanitarian consequences. Nearly two years after identifying the first COVID-19 case, the end of the pandemic is a long way off.
One of the ways to defeat the virus and stop its proliferation is equal and fair access to vaccines. Collective and joint efforts must be redoubled without delay to bring this about.
At this point, there are over 7 billion vaccine doses available, but more energetic actions must be taken to create the herd immunity and ensure access to vaccination for all vulnerable groups of people. The impacts of the pandemic are horrible, from the loss of jobs to mental health problems and decreasing access to the basic health services.
The pandemic has hit hard at the vulnerable groups, including migrants. They need broader support, because their social and legal standing is being undermined by the coronavirus pandemic. The authorities should take measures to give all migrants, regardless of their legal status and situation, access to health services. Efforts must also be taken to provide them with reliable information about ways to protect themselves from the virus.
We look forward to cooperating with the Russian Federation on ensuring equitable distribution of Russia’s Sputnik vaccine across other countries and continents. We are working with the Russian Foreign Ministry on Sputnik’s free humanitarian deliveries. We have met with the Russian Red Cross and ministries to discuss this procedure in its technical aspects, and hope that there will be a positive decision on this matter, including thanks to your involvement.
In this sense, the involvement by the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies is essential for ensuring vaccine equity for the most vulnerable people in many countries in need. There is also a need to help our members. This would ensure assistance to the most vulnerable groups who cannot get this assistance through other mechanisms.
Mr President, there is one more critical question, including for you – the issue of migrant flows. Every day, people are trying to reach the European Union, attempting to cross Polish, Lithuanian or Belarusian borders in search of a better and safer life.
The situation deteriorated in early November with several thousand migrants approaching the Polish and Lithuanian borders from the Belarusian side. According to the Belarusian authorities, there are some 5,000 migrants in Belarus. Many of them have been sheltered at a logistics centre. The Belarusian Red Cross is helping them within this logistics centre. Our teams are offering these people psychological support. However, the crisis we are witnessing there, and its humanitarian consequences, are a matter of concern for us. We are worried about the safety of these migrants, their increased vulnerability with the winter approaching, and the possible separation of families. We are helping the Belarusian Red Cross to carry out its humanitarian mandate.
I travelled to Belarus just last week, where we issued a call on governments, businesses and civil society to support the national Red Cross societies in Belarus, Lithuania and Poland which are currently responding to this crisis. The Belarusian Red Cross is the only organisation with direct access to the vulnerable people on that country’s territory.
We believe that the Red Cross also plays an important role when it comes to bringing assistance to these people. This is a very important aspect of these efforts.
The need to strengthen the Russian Red Cross activities at national and international levels is another important aspect. As I have already said, the Russian Red Cross enjoys tremendous trust. The work of local societies has become even more important during the COVID-19 pandemic. It has critical significance for saving people’s lives and for assisting the most vulnerable people. National societies are key elements of a system for assisting all people in need.
As I have already noted, the Red Cross has a tremendous potential for expanding its capabilities and for delivering humanitarian relief aid. Russia is one of the largest countries in the world, and its national Red Cross Society should reflect the country’s global role, so as to play a greater and more important role. Your presence here at our meeting today highlights your country’s commitment to this work.
The approval of the Law on the Russian Red Cross is an important element. This is important for the national society. The law will make it possible to chart the Red Cross’ specific roles and mandate, to provide it with a special status among other non-profit organisations, and it will clarify the Russian Red Cross’ relations with government bodies in the field of humanitarian activities. The approval of the law on protecting its emblem will also make the Red Cross more recognisable in the country, and this will help recognise the special status of the Russian Red Cross as a humanitarian organisation.
Mr President, the final item on our current agenda has to do with support for the Russian language as the Federation’s official language. Russia has kindly supported the Federation in translating key documents at statutory meetings of the Red Cross and Red Crescent movement. We value the support within the framework of this initiative because many national societies can benefit from this service.
In all, 300 million people speak Russian all over the world. We support the initiative of the Russian Red Cross on including the Russian language in the list of the Federation’s working languages. This will make it possible to expand the Russian-speaking region’s access to the movement’s materials. Therefore, we consider it important to support the Russian Red Cross’ plans to create a linguistic centre for translating the movement’s materials and for further distributing them among the Russian-speaking national societies.
Your Excellency, in conclusion, allow me to once again thank you for this wonderful opportunity to meet with you. Thank you for finding the time to discuss humanitarian challenges facing all of us and ways of resolving these problems and strengthening the Russian Red Cross at the international level.
Mr President, thank you for noting the important role of the International Federation. I am inspired by the energy of young people, the volunteers I have met over these days. It was a great pleasure for me to see so many young people who are dedicated to their work and their activities.
Mr Putin, thank you very much.
Vladimir Putin: Mr President, I would like to touch upon the discussion points you have mentioned.
The first of them concerns, of course, the fight against the coronavirus pandemic.
It is true, and I fully agree with you on this, that the main task here is vaccination. We are trying to avoid enforcement measures and are trying instead to use persuasion, to combat prejudice and suspicion related to the rejection of vaccination as such. It should be said that overall, we can see, especially recently, that these efforts are yielding the necessary result. As I said, it is very important to use persuasion, so that people will feel an inner need to get vaccinated.
I will not go into detail now, but I fully agree with you that we certainly need to rally our efforts at the international level to defeat the disease. If problems related to the insufficient level of vaccination persist in at least one of the world’s regions, new variants, new strains of the virus will keep returning even to the countries with a high level of vaccination coverage.
We have no problem with this. Our only problem in this regard is that we need to receive, as soon as possible, a certificate of the World Health Organisation allowing our vaccine which you have mentioned, Sputnik V, to be used more broadly throughout the world. As of now, around 200 million people have been vaccinated with our vaccine. But we must ensure that those who receive the Russian vaccine, Sputnik V, are allowed on a par with those who have been vaccinated with other vaccines to move freely around the world and to feel as the full citizens of the world in the global sense, without any infringements on their rights, including the right to cross national borders.
The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies has 192 member states, and so we pin our hopes on your support for the proliferation of our vaccine.
It should be said that the millions of people who have received the vaccine, and the analysis of information we have accumulated about their health after vaccination show that the Russian vaccine is definitely one of the most effective against COVID-19 and also one of the safest vaccines, since it has no negative side-effects. I myself has been vaccinated and revaccinated with Sputnik V. We have also created an intranasal vaccine.
I would like to say once again about the analysis of available information, including the data provided by absolutely unbiased sources, which I would like to point out, because we are exporting the vaccine where it is being analysed, and independent organisations working in foreign countries provide information about the results of vaccination to us. It can be said without exaggeration that the results are very good. I will not say anything about other vaccines now; I do not want this to sound as if we mistrust our colleagues. We trust them explicitly. But I just want to reaffirm that Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine is both effective and safe.
We are helping many countries, not only by supplying the vaccine commercially but also by sending it free of charge, and we intend to make broader use of this form of support. We are also supplying test kits, including free of charge, as well as medicines, which we have created, and which are being applied increasingly broadly. Therefore, we will certainly continue acting in this spirit. There is no doubt about this.
Regarding migration flows, fortunately, we are not seeing such flows in the direction of Europe via Russia. To be honest, I hope that this will not happen in the future.
Regarding the situation on the Belarusian-Polish border, this situation exists, but it is very important to follow the principles and rules that the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies has always observed. It is necessary to de-politicise the situation; it must not be politicised under any circumstances. There are about 5,000 migrants in Belarus at the moment. This year, Italy handled 54,000 migrants. There is also a crisis on the border between France and the United Kingdom, and the mutual grievances between these countries.
Belarusian authorities are doing everything they can. For example, they are persuading people to return to their homes, primarily to Iraq. But we should probably take a closer look at what is happening on the border and at the actions of the neighbouring state, namely, the Republic of Poland. People should not be sprayed with water that contains herbicides and pesticides which can cause burns and otherwise harm these migrants’ health, including women and small children. This does not fit with the principles of humane treatment of migrants in any way. How many people have already perished on the border, and how many of them have been buried? They are being buried there almost every day. This is a great tragedy. We must also pay attention to this.
I always point this out in my contacts and conversations with my colleagues from European countries. I hope that the situation on the Polish-Belarusian border will be gradually defused and eventually normalised, although people remain there whose destiny is still unclear. I certainly agree with you that it is necessary to support the Organisation of the Red Cross and the Red Crescent, so as to provide essential assistance to the people who need such help on the spot.
In turn, we will do everything possible, if it becomes necessary. To the best of my knowledge, Belarusian authorities and the Belarusian Red Cross are working actively to prevent people’s suffering there. To be honest, I am particularly worried about young children. It is simply impossible to remain indifferent when we see how they are forced to spend the nights outdoors, now that winter has set in. I simply cannot imagine how they are surviving there. This is an enormous ordeal for them. Of course, the Red Cross’ assistance is highly necessary.
As for the Russian Red Cross Society and the law on the Red Cross, I agree with you that this regulatory document remains relevant, and we are now discussing it, including the State Duma, the lower house of the Russian Parliament. We will cautiously and calmly move towards this goal working carefully and steadily. I agree with you that it is necessary to provide the Russian Red Cross Society with a good basic institutional and legal foundation for its activities.
Finally, with regard to our support for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies using Russian as its working language, I must say that we will do all we can to enable the Russian language to acquire this quality, especially since it is an official language at the United Nations. This will only do good, keeping in mind the fact that you, Mr President, have also mentioned, namely that Russian is spoken by approximately 300 million people in the world. Many countries will certainly use this language, I am sure, because this is convenient for them. We will support this initiative in every way.
In conclusion, I would like to say the humanitarian mission of the Red Cross is generally of high importance for the entire humankind, and particularly so now, during the pandemic. The fundamental principles of the Red Cross movement – humanity, impartiality, neutrality, independence, voluntary service, universality and unity – I am absolutely certain, are absolutely essential in our day and age. These are the values that, without any doubt, transcend all borders. We must make every effort – and will do so – to induce the entire international community to put these principles into practice.
Mr President, I would like to thank you once again for being with us today. I would like to wish you all the best and success in your noble work. Thank you very much.
Francesco Rocca: Thank you very much, Mr President. Thank you again for your time, for your attention, and for what you have said.
To conclude, I would like to say that I fully agree with you regarding the status of migrants in Europe. You were quite right in saying this. I told the journalists the same. I mean that we see differences in Italy and other regions of Europe. Some people wish to exploit these differences. We should work together to de-escalate this situation. I would like to thank you for commenting on this highly delicate topic. We will continue to support the Russian Red Cross with 100- and even 110-percent certainty, I should say.
Mr President, thank you for your time and your attention.
Vladimir Putin: Thank you. All the best.