Speach of the Russian Ambassador on the meeting with the press
Ladies and Gentlemen
I would like to welcome you all here in the Russian Ambassador residence. And prior to the beginning of my speech I would like to congratulate all of you with coming Catholic Easter.
I invited you today to inform you and through you the Ghanaian audience about political and social events in Russia and its role on the international arena.
At the beginning of my speech I would like to give you a short summary of the political and economic situation in Russia.
First of all I would like to draw your attention to the matters of political reform in Russia. After the Beslan tragedy Russian leadership began to reform Russian political and administrative systems. Such reforms were conceived earlier but the tragic events in the city of Beslan strongly precipitated their initiation. And I would like to reiterate here that these changes do not mean that Russia rejected generally accepted democratic principles. The reform is the state’s reaction to the pending threat of terrorism, in other words, an attempt to adapt the state to the growing threat of international terrorism. From other side, the reform is the attempt to settle our domestic problems.
You maybe know about changes proposed by the Russian President with regard to the way the heads of the regions are elected. This law has now been passed. To the critics of these steps I would like to say that there are different models of state systems in the world, probably there is no one perfect. For example: can anyone announce the elections of governors in the USA – to be democratic but the appointment of prefects in France not?
Russia also is moving towards a parliament that would be elected based on party lists. Here too there are issues we must work through in order to ensure that these new proposals will be of genuine benefit to the country in practice and will enable us to build a more balanced political system and encourage the development of a multiparty system in the Russian Federation.
A few words about Chechnya. Political settlement is already in progress in the Chechen Republic. Chechnya adopted the Constitution, elected the President and is getting ready for parliamentary elections. A large-scale program of socio-economic recovery has been launched. Everyone who strives for political settlement has a real opportunity to join this process.
What is needed to continue the process of settlement in Chechnya? There are currently two main directions. The first is the continuation of the political dialogue involving an increasingly greater number of the most diverse people with the most diverse views on the development of Chechnya as a subject of the Russian Federation.
The second is the development of the economy and the revival of the social sphere.
To regard today's Chechnya as only the field of struggle by federal troops and Chechen police with groups of terrorists means not to notice the main thing. Much more important is the following - the war-weary republic has, at last, begun the construction of a peaceful life.
The economy is being revived, and in the first places its core - oil production. In 2004 Chechnya exceeded the level of oil production of the Soviet times, by extracting 1.96 million tons. Electricity supply is resumed to more than 200 populated areas, where 80 percent of the population lives.
In Chechnya, where under Maskhadov's rule only one form of "education" was cultivated - the training of terrorists in special camps - there function 457 general education schools, three higher educational institutions, and 19 technical colleges today, with a total of 225,000 students and a teaching staff of 21,500.
Of course all this is only the beginning of the big work on restoring the economy and social sphere of Chechnya. But those who keep saying about a "catastrophe" in today's Chechnya should be reminded: under the rule of Dudayev and Maskhadov, 90 percent of schools, and 85 percent of hospitals in Chechnya were closed, pensions were not paid (all the budget funds, including those transferred from Moscow, went on the purchase of arms and recruitment of mercenaries), and on Fridays a market of slaves operated in Grozny's main square (about 35,000 people were forced to engage in slave labor in Chechnya).
Another issue – state of the press freedom in Russia. Affirmation of the pressure towards the Russian media is only one’s bare words. The President of Russia Mr.V.V.Putin underlined many times that independent media is an important instrument of developing democracy in our society; its existence – is our own interest.
There are a lot of different newspapers, TV and Radio channels in Russia. There is no secret that there are state media but private independent media are in a great majority in the Russian Federation. Among private media there are those which sharply criticize Russian authorities and the government. In some other countries the journalists would have lost their jobs for all such critics. Those who talk about independent media and freedom of the press absence in Russia have never seen Russian newspapers.
A few significant figures about the development of Russia’s economy and social sphere.
An average GDP growth last year came to an approximate result of 6.8 percent. This corresponds more or less to the average growth rates the Russian economy has seen over the last five years. Per capita GDP came to around $5,000 last year. This is more than double the result for 2002 and more than triples that of 1999.
Our imports of goods increased by almost 25 percent. We have had a record trade surplus of almost $80 billion over recent years as we have been exporting almost twice more than we import. The country’s gold and foreign currency reserves have increased by almost 70 percent and are now approaching the $136-billion mark (March 2005). This is a record result not only in the history of the Russian Federation but also in that of the Soviet Union.
One important fact to note is that our gold and foreign currency reserves now exceed the size of our state foreign debt (for this day around $115 billion). This means that Russia is now a net creditor. This economic growth we have seen has helped raise people’s real incomes, that is, and I stress this point, real incomes not counting inflation and price rises. Real incomes have risen by 9 percent and pensions have increased by approximately five percent. Wages, according to various calculations, have increased by somewhere from 10-12.5 percent.
The situation has been quite good in the area of state finances. We have had a federal budget proficit for the fifth year in a row now. Our stabilisation fund has now reached a total of more than $20 billion. At the same time, state foreign debt has decreased since 1999 and as a share of GDP has fallen from almost 60 percent to 20 percent.
One of our achievements last year has been that the world’s leading ratings agencies have given Russia an investment-grade rating. These assessments do fully reflect the real economic situation. In previous years, our country received around $4 billion a year in direct investment, but in 2003 that figure was up to $6.2 billion and in 2004 it comes to around $10 billion.
During the past year Russian diplomacy was more active in all areas. Russia's relations were dynamically developing with its main partners in the West and in the East, with key international organizations and regional structures. It needs to be stressed that Russia used its increased potential not solely or largely to advance the purely Russian interests but rather for the achievement of common goals that our country shares with the majority of the world community.
Russia has played a key part in combining the world community's efforts in the fight against terrorism. Following the tragedy in Beslan the UN Security Council's resolution 1566 was adopted on Russia's initiative, which substantially reinforces the international legal base of the fight against terrorism, including the liquidation of its infrastructure and sources of financing, as well as the prevention of the sheltering of terrorists from justice.
Terrorism is currently striking not only at Russia, but also at many other countries of the world. This is a common global threat now. In order to fight this common evil effectively and successfully, it is necessary to combine efforts, it is necessary to speak one and the same language, it is necessary to move away from the policy of double standards in the definition of what terrorism is.
It is necessary, finally, to get rid of the stereotypes and rhetoric of the Cold War, when the same actions of practically the same organizations, but in different regions of the world used to be declared - according to the current political situation - either terrorist actions or a struggle for independence.
Among other international issues I would like to mark the following.
Our interaction with the United States continued to grow stronger. We must be allies in fighting terrorism, there is simply no choice. Along with the United States, leading European nations and other countries, Russia has become a full-fledged participant in the security initiative related to non-proliferation of mass destruction weapons. Our country has been promoting a very useful dialogue with the United States on strategic stability. The two countries have a quite concrete plan of action, approved by their presidents in virtually every areas of ensuring security and promoting economic and other collaboration in bilateral relations.
In spite of certain difficulties, Russian cooperation with the European Union has substantially advanced. There has been signed and ratified the Protocol extending the Russia-EU Partnership and Cooperation Agreement to the New Members of the European Union, which takes into account our concerns, including those about the protection of the rights of the Russian-speaking population in the Baltic states. The Russia-EU Summit in The Hague constituted an important landmark in the joint work on the formation of the Four Common Spaces - common economic space; space for freedom, security and justice; space for co-operation on external security; and space for research, education and culture.
As part of our multivector foreign policy an important impulse has been given to the participation of Russia in multilateral cooperation and to the development of bilateral relations within the Asia-Pacific Region, including in the interests of the economic development of the regions of Siberia and the Russian Far East. At the APEC Summit in Chile Russia joined in the processes of regional cooperation in the fight against terrorism and in the trade-and-economic field. Russia's accession to the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia of 1976 (the Bali Treaty) constituted a major step towards deepening our partnership with ASEAN.
The entire world welcomed the ratification by Russia of the Kyoto Protocol to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, opening the way to the entry of this important document into force.
Political dialogue between Russia and the African states south of the Sahara is fairly intensive. We have common positions and approaches on key aspects of the international agenda, including the building of a just and democratic world order, the strengthening of the central role of the UN, the fight against terrorism and extremism and counteraction to other new challenges and threats. The foreign ministers of Gabon, Senegal and the Republic of Congo and other officials from a number of African states have visited Moscow in 2004 and the first two months of 2005. During the current session of the UN General Assembly the Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov met with the foreign ministers of South Africa, Mali and Mozambique. Deputy foreign ministers of Russia have met with the leaders and foreign ministers of Angola, Ghana, Ethiopia, Nigeria, Cote d'Ivoire and Liberia. Parliamentary and other Russian delegations have visited the continent. About 15 political consultations between foreign ministries have been held, including some at the level of deputy foreign ministers.
Concerted efforts are underway to step up trade and economic links. Thanks to the efforts taken, the positive dynamic of trade with the African countries south of the Sahara was preserved, trade amounted to some 800 million dollars in 2003 and, judging from preliminary results of the past year, it may grow by about a fourth in 2004. Russian Federation continues to offer African states broad preferences in the field of trade, consistently contributed to alleviating their debt burden as part of the initiative for very poor countries with large debts. In 1998-2002 alone Russia wrote off 11.2 billion dollars of the debt of African countries, the total amount of debts of African states written off by Russia in 2003-2004 was 107.97 million dollars.
Russia is contributing in a substantial way to developing an overall strategy of the settlement of conflicts on the continent, the political line of the international community in each concrete crisis situation, determining the mandates of corresponding peacekeeping operations, agreeing steps aimed at a comprehensive solution of the tasks of post-conflict reconstruction. Russian assistance to strengthening security in Africa has yet another dimension: at present about 230 Russian servicemen and security men are involved in the UN peacekeeping operations in Africa: in Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Western Sahara, Cote d'Ivoire, Liberia, Sierra-Leone, Ethiopia and Eritrea.
As for Ghana -Russia relations I would like to say that in the past two years there were quite a number of important events in the sphere of bilateral cooperation. Among them - the visit of the Russian parliamentary and business delegation to Ghana, the visit of the Ghanaian parliamentary delegation headed by the former Speaker of Parliament Rt. Hon. Mr. Peter Ala Adjetey to Moscow and Saint-Petersburg, the establishment of Ghana - Russia business association (now – Chamber of Commerce), the formation of Ghana - Russia parliamentary group, the business trips to Ghana of the delegations of several Russian companies. I also would like to mention the meeting of Ghanaian Foreign Minister Mr. Nana Akufo-Addo with Russian Deputy Foreign Minister A.Saltanov in New-York and the visit of the Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Y.Fedotov to Ghana within the framework of his working trip to several West African countries.
There is growing interest in the Russian Federation to the establishment and development of trade and economic relations with Ghanaian partners. Many Russian companies are looking for the ways of cooperation with Ghana.
But for the time being, because of some both objective and subjective reasons trade and economic relations between Russia and Ghana do not meet available opportunities. Meanwhile, such cooperation is quite real. In Ghana, as we know, there is a potential demand for Russian industrial output (motor transport, agricultural machinery etc.).
Russian Government increased the number of scholarships granted to the Republic of Ghana at the expense of the Russian Federal Budget up to 30 for the academic year 2004/2005. And one more fact that clearly reaffirms the Russian Government's intention to consistently develop relations with the Republic of Ghana is that last January we began to construct a new Complex of the Russian embassy in Accra. We hope that these important developments will add new dimensions and give strong impetus to the relations between our two countries.
On May 9, 2005 Russia will celebrate the 60-th anniversary of the Victory in the Great Patriotic war. This is an enormous event in the life of mankind. Enormous, because the Second World War is the largest catastrophe in the history of mankind, and the greatest lesson for current and future generations. We must pay tribute to the memory of victims of the Second World War. And we must remember this lesson, and make the necessary conclusions from it to build a modern safe world.
This world must be balanced and democratic; it must take into account the interests of all countries. It is no coincidence that the UN General Assembly has called May 8 and 9 as Days of Remembrance and Reconciliation. We believe that such sentiments in the international community and such attitudes to these events and this specific date are extremely important.
I would like to remind you that many peoples greatly contributed to the victory over Nazism. All the countries of the anti-Hitler coalition made an enormous contribution to victory. It is our common victory.
Here in Ghana we are preparing to organize several functions devoted to this event. First of all we are going to launch the photo-exhibition “People who won the war” in the University of Ghana. Secondly, we‘ll try to show to Ghanaian audience some movies on this subject. Finally, we will organize the reception on the occasion of the 60-th anniversary of the Victory in the Great Patriotic war on May 9, 2005.
That is all what I wanted to say just for the beginning. Now I am ready for your questions. Please, go ahead.