PRESIDENT VLADIMIR PUTIN: Dear Mr President of the Republic of Chechnya,

Dear deputies of the parliament of the Republic of Chechnya,

Dear friends,

Today is a very important and symbolic day in the life of Chechnya and of the whole country. We have followed a difficult, winding and hard road to reach this day.

I would like to recall the beginning of the 1990s, when the overwhelming majority of people in Russia placed their hopes for a better life on the new freedom and democracy they had won. And indeed, freedom and democracy truly are necessary conditions for the development of all countries and all peoples.

But we also recall well that our country ran up against great economic difficulties and found itself facing what amounted to the collapse of its social system – at least, the old social system crumbled and nothing came to take its place. This led not to stronger state institutions, but to their destruction. All of this gave rise in turn to problems such as separatism, not only in the North Caucasus, and not only in Chechnya, but also in many other parts of our vast country.

What happened in Chechnya is not unique then, but all of these tendencies took on a particularly complex, difficult and dramatic character here. And it is understandable why this happened. The Chechen people had suffered much over the course of history, especially during the decades of Soviet power. Chechen soldiers fought in the ranks of the Soviet Armed Forces, fought on the fronts of World War II, defended the nation’s interests and wrote their names in the memory of our country as defenders of our common homeland, but despite all of this, millions of Chechens were deported in cattle wagons to Siberia and the steppes of Kazakhstan. We understand what an immense tragedy this was. And of course it was easier here than anywhere else to take advantage of these problems of the past.

Moving ahead, I want to say to you that we remember the past, will not forget it and will not let anything of this kind happen again, neither here in Chechnya nor in any other part of the Russian Federation. But we must also think about the future. And if we think about the future, we need to understand, realise and accept that there are processes underway throughout our entire world - common processes arising from objective factors – processes that are leading to integration and to the joining of forces in a common effort. In this context, it would be wrong for us not to make use of the positive experience we have inherited from the past. For we have not only negative events to remember, but also a legacy of positive experience that we can use in order to be able to look to the future and step forward together.

Those people who have, in my view, shown their worst side, took advantage of the problems in our past and appropriated the right to speak on behalf of the entire Chechen people. But life has shown that they put their personal ambitions, their personal political ambitions and their material interests higher than the interests of the Chechen people. How else can we explain the gang of terrorists that invaded the fraternal Republic of Dagestan in 1999? What connection can there be between the fight for independence and attacking Dagestan? What is there to even debate in this respect? The simple fact is that this was yet another attempt in history to manipulate and take advantage of the Chechen people.

This is what Chechnya ended up with as a result of destructive forces’ activities in the early and mid-1990s, this and all the other negative events that took place in the republic’s life during those years – complete economic collapse, the closure of hospitals, schools and kindergartens, unpaid wages, pensions and benefits of various kinds and the occupation of the republic by armed gangs and foreign mercenaries who established their own control over each and every political structure. I know all this and you know it too. But this is not all and it is perhaps not even what is most important.

Most terrible of all was that the people who came here bearing arms brought with them a perverted interpretation of the Koran that goes absolutely against the traditions of the peoples of the Russian North Caucasus. Not only did they pervert the Koran in their interpretations, but they discredited it in their deeds. At least, they attempted to discredit it, for it is not possible to discredit Islam, a world-wide religion infused with humanist ideals. But there were people who looked at all that was happening, people who saw these problems and negative tendencies, who realised that this was a dead-end road that would take their people nowhere, and who used this realisation to make the courageous decision, the only possible decision, namely, that freedom, independence and prosperity can be achieved only together with a free and prosperous Russia.

I remember very well my conversations with Akhmat-Hadji Kadyrov, and I have spoken about them publicly in the past. I tried to dissuade him from becoming president of the republic. I said to him, “You know, let’s wait a while. There are still a lot of problems, security problems, problems with legal violations, problems rebuilding the economy and the social sector, and all of this will be on your shoulders, it will all be your responsibility, even if you are unable to do anything yourself to address it”. And I remember his reply very clearly. He said essentially the following: “I believe”, he said, “that the time will come when Chechnya will flourish and the people will live in prosperity and security. And then there will be plenty of people wanting to head the republic in such conditions. But today it is people like I who are needed, people who need nothing for themselves and who are ready to give everything they have, even their life if need be, for the sake of their people”.

And now I want to address my words to you who are present here in this hall, my words of thanks, because I know that there are still many unresolved problems today. Taking your seat in this hall today, heading a district, a region, heading the republic or the parliament, becoming a member of the parliament and carrying out active work in the interests of your people are all things that require great personal courage and the desire to achieve positive results. I can assure you that we are on the right road together.

I recalled unpleasant events linked to international terrorism. I would like to draw your attention to another circumstance, something I did not immediately give thought to myself, though it seems obvious enough. I want to mention it now. Those who are on the other side, fighting for their false ideals, either do not know or have forgotten, and those ordinary people who get used as cannon fodder, who get paid $10 to place a landmine or to fire a machine gun, simply do not know that Russia has always been the most loyal, reliable and consistent defender of the Moslem world’s interests. Russia has always been the best and most reliable partner and ally. In trying to destroy Russia, these people are undermining one of the Moslem world’s main sources of support in the fight for the legitimate rights of the Islamic world on the international stage. But those who organise these activities are probably acting deliberately, consciously aware of the aims they are trying to achieve.

The leaders of the main Islamic countries understand very well this idea that I just expressed. This is why their representatives were present during the referendum on the Constitution of the Republic of Chechnya, during the presidential election and recently during the parliamentary election. The Organisation of the Islamic Conference, the League of Arab Nations and our other colleagues and friends were all present. And, as you know, the members of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference took the unanimous decision to allow Russia to take part in the organisation’s work as an observer on a permanent basis. We will continue our work within this organisation. A delegation of Russian Moslems was in Mecca just recently and discussed issues of developing the Moslem world there together with their brothers. I repeat, Russia will continue this policy in the future.

I also want to draw your attention to the fact that everyone entrusted by the people to represent them has a great responsibility to bear. We have great problems to resolve and much work still to be done.

The first objective is to convince those who have not yet laid aside their arms, and there are still such people, that they are fighting for a false cause that is harmful to their republic and to their people.

The second objective is to do everything necessary to strengthen the republic’s law enforcement system: the courts, the prosecutor’s office, the interior ministry and the legal profession.

This is not possible without building a system of modern relations between the different branches of power, between the legislative branch, which you represent, and the executive authorities, the district heads, and between the government and the president. This is not an easy undertaking. It is a difficult task for Russia in general. Russia in general does not have lengthy historical experience in developing democratic institutions. We are doing many things for the first time. We should base ourselves on the general world trends in this work. We not only should do this – we need to do this, for ourselves. I want to wish you success in this work. It is work that requires professionalism, responsibility and the ability to reach agreements and look for compromise solutions. This is probably not an easy task for anyone, but for people from the Caucasus agreeing to a compromise is probably always somewhat difficult. But such are the rules of democratic society, which is a far more efficient form of society, today at least, than any other kind of social organisation.

We also need to resolve another task in our work on reaching the objectives I mentioned before. We must improve the quality of the work of the state agencies and the law enforcement system and exclude any possibility of violation of the laws, especially such serious violations as abducting people.

Whosoever is involved in illegal activity, be they from the local or federal agencies, must be found and punished in accordance with the laws of the Russian Federation.

Likewise, those who do not understand good intent and good, normal language, those who do not wish to lay down their arms and who continue fighting against their own people, must also be found and punished. But this is not all the work we have before us. Most difficult of all are the economic and social problems. Ultimately, everything the elected representatives of the people do is for the people of which we are a part, for those who elected us to these high posts. This is a difficult task, very difficult, because the damage of the last 10 years is catastrophic in scale. You know this yourselves. We need to rebuild the republic’s traditional sectors of activity – agriculture, the oil production and refinery sector, the construction sector. And we also need to look at modern areas of activity, look at developing modern production enterprises. I think that the federal authorities’ role in this respect is not to intervene but to provide support and help.

But there are some areas where issues cannot be resolved without support from the federal authorities. There are a whole number of such areas, but I will name just one – the rebuilding of Grozny. We have now come to the point when we can take real steps to start rebuilding the Chechen capital. One of the criteria for evaluating the work of the President, the Government and the Presidential Plenipotentiary Envoy in the Southern Federal District will be the work undertaken to achieve this objective. The problems and issues that we have to resolve together are all positive in that they are constructive issues, constructive problems. When people work on problems of this kind they create, bring benefit to their society, their people, their fellow citizens, and they will always achieve success, no matter how difficult the tasks they undertake to resolve.

I wish you success.

Thank you very much.