PRESIDENT VLADIMIR PUTIN: I won’t hide that it is difficult to begin this conversation.

Any mother, any father, any normal person understands what you are feeling. This is why thousands of people in our country and abroad responded to this tragedy at the moment it took place and did everything they could to show in some way their solidarity with the victims.

Overall, I know about and have been informed about the problems and concerns that preoccupy you today. I must say right away that I agree with those who say that today the state is unable to provide its citizens with the necessary level and quality of security. This is regrettably true not only of our state. You know about the terrible tragedy that struck the United States in 2001, when law enforcement agencies and intelligence services failed to detect and prevent a horrific terrorist act that killed thousands of people. You know about that terrorist acts in Spain and the recent terrorist bombings in London. Even powerful and developed countries with functioning economies and well-organised intelligence services are not able to prevent these barbaric acts from taking place.

There are many more examples. What can we say then about our own country that, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, suffered heavy blows in all areas, in social policy and in the economy? Following the serious events in Chechnya in the first half of the 1990s, our Armed Forces and our special services were barely on their feet and were in a state of semi-disintegration. Unfortunately, we have no other means, no option but to combat this scourge that is terrorism.

But I also want to stress that I agree with those who say that the problems our state faces are not an excuse or justification for officials not to fulfil their duties properly. This is the truth. A thorough investigation should be conducted into all the circumstances of this affair and you and the entire Russian public should be informed of its conclusions. This is our objective and we will most certainly ensure that this is indeed what happens.

That is what I wanted to say at the start. I know that you have many questions and perhaps also proposals. I am ready to listen to everything you have to say.

In conclusion, I just wanted to explain why we chose precisely this day for this meeting. I knew earlier about your request for a meeting. But I was waiting first for investigators to collect enough objective data from preliminary investigations into a number of criminal cases started following the tragedy in Beslan. The second point, which you also know about, is that we have made a legislative decision to declare September 3 the Day of Solidarity with all Victims of Terrorism. It was the terrorist act in Beslan that prompted us to take this decision at national level and immortalise the memory of all victims of terrorism, including the victims of Beslan, throughout all of Russia and for all time to come.

That is all I wanted to say at the beginning. Let us now talk in detail about all the questions that worry and concern you. I am ready to answer all your questions.