Press-releases of the Embassy

While on a working trip to Crimea, President of Russia Vladimir Putin had an informal meeting with representatives of Crimean ethnic groups’ public associations

August 17, 2015

President of Russia Vladimir Putin:  Good afternoon, friends.

Let me start by saying a few words, and then we will have a free discussion on the subject that has brought us together.

One can’t help but experience special feelings and emotions here in Crimea, not just because this is such a beautiful place with unique nature, but also because you feel so fully and closely here the link with all of Russia’s history and with the unique cultural and spiritual heritage that different peoples shaped over the centuries here in this land.

As you know, a census was conducted in Crimea last October, and more than 96 percent of the people indicated their ethnic identity. This is objective data, reliable and obtained through professional work. There are people from 175 different ethnic groups living in Crimea today. Russians make up the biggest ethnic group (68 percent), followed by Ukrainians (16 percent), and Crimean Tatars (more than 10 percent). The census also gave us information on people’s native languages. Eighty-four percent of Crimean residents said they consider Russian their native language, nearly 8 percent said Crimean Tatar is their native language, 3.7 percent Tatar, and 3.3 percent Ukrainian. Russian is the most widely spoken language in the region, with 99.8 percent of Crimea’s population knowing the language.

Crimea is essentially a mirror of multi-ethnic Russia. Here, like everywhere in Russia, we need to pay the utmost, constant attention to building greater peace and harmony, combining the efforts of the state authorities and civil society. I therefore consider this meeting with you, the representatives of Crimean Federal District’s ethnic public associations, very important indeed.

Let me remind you that one of our first steps after Crimea was reunited with Russia was to enshrine in law the equality of the region’s three official languages: Russian, Ukrainian and Crimean Tatar. This was a matter of principle for us, because over the preceding period of more than 20 years, a biased approach was taken to this issue in the region. Restoring historical justice and the balance of interests between the region’s peoples was one of our greatest tasks, as was full rehabilitation of all repressed peoples in Crimea.

It was for this purpose that I issued the Presidential Executive Order that you know of, and the Russian Government and the regional authorities of Crimea and Sevastopol approved a comprehensive package of measures for its implementation. They concern the social and spiritual revival of the Armenian, Bulgarian, Greek, Crimean Tatar and German minorities, who were subjected to unlawful deportation and political repression.

I stress the point that creating an atmosphere of trust and mutual understanding between the different ethnic groups is a key issue for the region’s successful development. We can resolve the problems that have built up, including social support for the rehabilitated peoples, only if we ensure political stability and interethnic harmony.

Over this recent period, 75 ethnic and cultural autonomous organisations and 15 ethnic and cultural associations have been established. Organisations of this kind have long since become a tradition in Russia. Their members work effectively together with the authorities at all levels and sit on consultative and advisory bodies.

It is good to see that this approach is producing positive results in Crimea too. I think that the region’s ethnic and cultural associations should take a more active part in public life here in Crimea, and not only here, but in all of Russia, participating in national and interregional events too.

Colleagues, I have said before that interethnic relations is a very sensitive and delicate area, and ethnic community representatives and the authorities all need to take a careful approach here and keep up constant dialogue, including at the municipal level, where people are actually living side by side together.

In this context, any speculation on the notion that people belonging to this or that ethnic group have some particular rights is very dangerous, in my view. We need to defend the interests of all people in Crimea and Sevastopol, regardless of whether they are Russian, Ukrainian, Crimean Tatar, or any of the other peoples I mentioned. We need to make use of the wealth of experience we have built up in Russia, where people of a huge variety of ethnic groups all live together. We need to promote the idea of a common cause, get people involved in tackling the problems of their town or village, and help them to organise local government.

Each region, including in the Crimean Federal District, should have regional programmes to support non-governmental organisations that contribute to interethnic peace and harmony. Today, August 17, marks the start of the latest tender for bids to receive state grants for carrying out projects of social importance and projects to protect human rights and freedoms. We are allocating more than 4 billion rubles for this work this year. I hope that NGOs from Crimea and Sevastopol will also take an active part in this tender.

This is all I wanted to say for now. I hope we will have an active discussion today on all the very important matters I have just outlined, and if you have any other issues you wish to raise, feel free – I am here at your disposal. Please, go ahead.

Head of the Qirim Interregional Crimean Tatar Public Movement Remzi Ilyasov:  Good afternoon, Mr President.

I want to note right away that the Crimean Republic’s accession to the Russian Federation was a momentous event for all ethnic groups in the Republic of Crimea, including the Crimean Tatars.

We all passed through the most dangerous period together in February and March 2014, when we did not allow interethnic conflicts to ensue. Regardless of what happened and what provocations occurred, we maintained peace. Today, we have peace, calm, and we are working to resolve problems.

I represent and head the Qirim public movement of the Crimean Tatar people. From the outset, we established a constructive dialogue with the authorities and are systematically holding meetings with the public; among other things, we have assumed a certain level of responsibility for the overall situation in Crimea, sharing it with the authorities. We are participating in all Crimea-wide events held in the Republic of Crimea and are organising and holding Crimean Tatar celebrations.

Thanks to the initiative and active work by members of the Qirim public movement of Crimean Tatar people, during the elections to the State Council and local offices, we were able to reduce a certain amount of political conflict and ethnic tensions.

At the same time, while this productive, creative work and constructive dialogue with the authorities was underway, we saw another attempt in August to destabilise the situation in the Republic of Crimea, to strain interethnic relations. I am referring to the so-called Global Congress of Crimean Tatars, which was held on August 1–2 in Ankara. Although it could be called a club of the like-minded, its main goal was to pit the people of Crimea against each other and destabilise the situation.

I must note that we anticipated this situation and the work of this congress, its resolution and the declaration that was to be adopted there. On July 25 (one week before this congress), we held a second conference for the Qirim interregional movement. It was attended by all public associations, regardless of whether their positions or points of view coincide with ours.

There were 520 participants in the work of the conference, over 20 public organisations of Crimean Tatars. Even the spiritual leader of Crimean Muslims, hajji Emirali Ablayev (who is sitting next to me), participated in the work of the conference, as well as representatives from regional divisions of the spiritual administration of Crimean Muslims.

Moreover, the conference was also attended by 152 individuals representing Crimean Tatar creative professionals, small and midsize businesses, economic entities, 52 officials from state institutions, state representatives, one third of the delegates of the Kurultai of the Crimean Tatar people (this is an ethnic conference of Crimean Tatars) and about 70 individuals who represented local and regional self-organised Crimean Tatar groups. As a result, the conference took on the format of a national gathering of Crimean Tatars in the Republic of Crimea.

The assessment of what was happening in Ankara was very civil, and also very precise. There was a unanimous expression of opposition to the destructive activities of the group of politicians that found shelter in Kiev and support confrontation, including the violation of international relations.

Thank you for your attention.

Vladimir Putin:  Thank you, Mr Ilyasov.

First of all, I would like to thank the Crimean Tatar people for their active participation in the referendum that was held a little over a year ago. Objective data shows that the turnout among Crimean Tatars was slightly lower than the overall Crimean average, but the percentage of those who voted for reunification with Russia turned out to be even higher than in Crimea overall. This is easy to explain, since those who were against it simply did not go to vote, apparently. So the turnout was a little lower. But ultimately, it was also quite high, over 60 percent, if I remember correctly, somewhere around 66 percent. This is a very high turnout according to all international standards. And the fact that people came and voted says a great deal. But it also speaks to the fact that the government must fulfil certain significant objectives, because the people voted to change their lives for the better. The executive order I spoke about, and the decisions that were then made at the Governmental level, are aimed at ensuring that people’s expectations are met.

You spoke about those who try to somehow destabilise the situation, particularly through Crimean Tatar issues, but we know well who you are talking about. There are many people who consider themselves to be professional fighters for human rights.  For these people, it does not matter what rights these are, and it doesn’t matter whose rights they are. What’s important is that they are fighters, and they want to receive foreign grants to realise their ambitions, including their political ambitions. If they want to realise their ambitions in another state, that’s great, they should go ahead and do it. But I fully agree with you that it doesn’t mean we will allow them to realise their ambitions here, especially since these ambitions have nothing in common with the interests of the Crimean Tatar people and the interests of the actual people living here.

Nevertheless, we have the question of whether these rights should be fought for. I will respond in the affirmative: yes, they should be fought for. What should our joint work on this entail? It’s one thing to issue an executive order, a law, or a Government resolution, and another to achieve implementation. I am not sure everything would go smoothly and within the timeline that we would like to implement these objectives. The truth is, life is always more complex and multifaceted than any decision that looks good on paper, but exists only on paper. Whereas we need to ensure that these things are implemented in real life.

Therefore, this connection with people, particularly people on the ground, with public associations like the ones you all represent, including your organisation, is very important for me and is very much needed. I very much count on working with you closely and constructively.

As for the attempts to destabilise, I think that ordinary people can tell on their own that it is impossible to promote anybody’s ambitions if those ambitions have nothing to do with the interests of real people, and the Crimean Tatar problems are used only as an instrument for achieving these personal ambitions. We simply have to keep this in mind. But overall, we will work with anybody who has a constructive outlook, even if it is critical, but nevertheless constructive, and wants to achieve practical results – and that includes me, personally.

Remzi Ilyasov:  Thank you.