And once again YAMAL did not let them down

The President Enjoyed Salekhard
Anna Korsakova


The ambulatory assembly of the State Council presidium dedicated to the problems of the regions in the Far North has become the most large-scale and status-oriented event in the Arctic region for many years. On Wednesday the entire day in Salekhard was spent discussing the problems of the North. Yesterday Putin visited the open-air ethnographic museum and met with some of the residents.

The president did not come to Salekhard to seek the exotic character of the North. The main objective was to have a realistic picture of how the majority of Russian northern regions live. For a full presentation, it should be noted that Yamal was the best choice. The standard of life here is higher than that of their neighbors. As a result, compared with last year, the okrug became one of the five most dynamically developing regions in Russia. The average salary here is almost 1000 dollars. When the decision was being made as to where the president shall go, Salekhard rated higher than Yakutsk and other northern towns due to its modern infrastructure good roads and comfortable hotels.

The word “Yamal” translated from the Nenets means “the edge of the world” and it is here at this very “edge” where the process of finding a solution to the main problems in the country begin. By the year 2010 Russia should have doubled her gross product and Yamal and other energy-producing regions are obliged to provide this market with fuel. This is the reason for augmenting the volumes from 126 billion roubles in 2000 up to 352 billion in 2003 and the possibility of 455 billion for the current year. These are absolute gross product figures of the Yamalo-Nenets Okrug. A fifth of the world’s gas is extracted here or more than 750 billion cubic meters annually plus 60 to 65 million tons of oil.

- We must bear in mind that the period of extracting so-called light gas and the development of giant reserves is almost a thing of the past remarked the governor of the Yamalo-Nenets Okrug - Yury Neelov. The future points towards full-scale development of the Yamal peninsula and the shelf zone in the Karsk sea. Industrial growth within the country was the result of increased interest in Yamal chromite reserves. And in the near future Russian metallurgy can cease the import of chrome altogether. Our plans call for an output of extracting a million tons of chrome annually.

Another important subject discussed at the State Council was that in spite of such rich mineral reserves, the okrug still experiences serious material difficulties. The lion’s share of these difficulties is caused by the centralization of budgetary earnings. In the words of the representatives of the administrative okrug , last year the total amount of tax for the extraction of natural gas was sent to Moscow. Modifications were introduced into the taxation legislation decreasing other deductions in the local budget. The result was a deficit of 4 billion Rbls in the budget for 2004 for the first time in recent years. The result was that the okrug - the world center for extracting gas - is forced to close up many long-term development progams.

Nevertheless, the administration has the intention to finance the main social programs whatever the deficit may be. The governor Yury Neelov says, the “northerners” must not be restricted in their social life. The intention is to transfer 80% of the budget this year for social programs.

Every year 70% of the Yamal children spend their holidays in the south. The schools on the peninsula have one computer for 25 pupils compared to the country as a whole where the ratio is one to 80.

In 2000 the okrug was the first to integrate the system of goal-oriented educational subsidies. Last year more than 2000 graduates could take advantage of it even though the Ministry of Education, R.F. was just planning to use such loans.

Much effort goes into supporting and maintaining indigenous minority peoples. These efforts are giving results. Today there are 33 thousand indigenous residents in the okrug and annually about 2 billion Rbls are earmarked for their social welfare. In essence this amount has already been spent buying and delivering fuel to remote settlements. And even though fuel seems to be almost like gold, the opinion of the administration is that everybody - resident or not shall not be deprived of the energy stored under the peninsula.

Putin praised Neelov and criticized YUKOS for its attitude towards the environment
Natalya Melikova

On his second day in Salekhard Vladimir Putin looked at the reindeer, spoke with children and representatives of minority peoples of the North. The schedule turned out to be rather tight and it was noticeable that the Head of State was exhausted. How else can one explain that he called Salekhard Surgut during the meeting with the minority peoples. Consequently he of course apologized to Yury Neelov - Head of the Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Okrug (YAAO) . “Don’t worry about it, - Neelov soothed the president, - I worked six years there and it was almost one and the same place”.

Not only did these two towns bear a close resemblance to each other but the future governor of YANAO was a trudovik (worked fast and well) there. Discussing the responsibilities for the territories where they reside, Putin remarked: “ Salakhard or Surgut it’s all the same”.

In Putin’s opinion doing business in this area is having to work fiercely with the environment . “Take Nefteyugansk for example it’s a completely different story” . This hint was quite transparent since this was the town where YUKOS was very active. “What is needed is a systematic approach, an approach which will not permit our operations to just stand by and do nothing about the environment” the Head of State summarized.

The program for the second day started with a visit to Gornoknyazevsk. The journalists were there before the President and had the opportunity to study the sites worth visiting. Right at the entrance to the town a school and kindergarten are situated. They were also expecting the President there. Quite oblivious to their surroundings the children were busy drawing trying to ignore the large crowd of journalists who were harassing the children with the question: “ whom are you expecting to come here soon?” Following our visit the children probably felt a sense of responsibility and became upset: when Putin came to them, little Andrei could not find Yamal on the map in spite of the fact that they had spent a long time preparing by studying the map of their country.

Across the street from the school is the ethnographic compound with reindeer and chums the first visiting site in Gornoknyazevsk: The deer unfortunately were without antlers. “They have shed them” explained Nikolai Babin the deputy governor of Yamal for minority peoples - to the journalists.

The chum into which the Head of State was supposed to glance into in a few hours had a stove (also known as chumova here) burning. There is the cover continued Babin with his excursion this is where the Khanty sleep and make children”. The official also informed them that they sleep when it is minus 25 and to avoid freezing, they wrap themselves up in a “yagushka” - a fur coat made of reindeer skin. The most interesting details concerned the mutual relationship between the two sexes. “ Work is the woman’s responsibility and the man is the provider here”, related Babin with feeling. “The Khanty have two - three wives”, said the deputy governor offering useful bits of information to them. But in order not to completely grind the Yamal women into the ground, the official noted at the end of the lecture: ”all the same he is alone and a man in a chum without a woman can not survive”! The president still did not have the opportunity to find out about these thrilling details of the life of the Khanty the deputy governor did not show us around the compound but the director of the museum gave us a tour. However the governor of YAAO could not allow the Head of State not to know the difficult situation of the women in the Far North. While answering his leading questions the director could not help, but notice that the woman was not allowed to step into the front part of the chum. That is the local tradition. Putin, however, was not inspired by this fact, he preferred reindeer even if they had no antlers. He went up to them twice looked at them for a long time but for some reason did not feed them.

Then they saw the slides at the data bank called “Yamal Natural Resources”, a modern building in the center of the town. Strategically located, it is not open to the public and the media was warned of this beforehand. I should like to note at this point that there are quite a number of buildings in Salekharde built according to the latest town-planning techniques. Putin also joked about the Yamal governor: “we’ll return to this question of unequal tax distribution between the Center and the regions, yet the outside view of your town tells me the opposite”.

When the slides had been looked at, Putin left to meet with the minority peoples of the North. The evening before, at the presidium of the State Council, a discussion on this topic ended without any results but more about distribution of money and authorization between the federal Center and the regions.

“Our greatest wealth is not in oil and gas but the culture of the numerous peoples of the Russian Federation”, remarked Putin when opening the meeting. Then he sat back and listened to the presentations. There were many of them. They were so numerous that one of the journalists from the main papers who could not take any more of this journalistic tension fell asleep. But Vladimir Putin listened attentively and even reacted almost to every paper read.

In summarizing the almost 3-hour meeting, the Head of State considered it important to announce not only to those present but to all other Russians as well: “At first glance looking from Salekhard the problems look different. We are here where the temperature is minus 25 but in Krasnodar it is plus 25. Does that mean that paradise is there? No that’s not the way it works. They have their own problems and they are not less than here. He also added: “Dumplings will not jump into your mouth by themselves, everybody has to do something. Here on the right side and in the Center”. But as regards the northern territories, their prosperity , so-to-say, is not worse than many Russian villages”, stated the Head of the State. Putin in spite of the irony directed at each other to the rich ”northerners” the president nevertheless pointed out that the governor of the Yamal-Nenets Autonomous Okrug - Neelev managed without a doubt to make a good impression on the President.
Salekhard, District centre of national cultures

April 29, 2004

Speech at a meeting of representatives of the northern territories of Russia

President Vladimir Putin:

Good day, dear friends,
We began work on studying and searching for solutions on the North of Russia yesterday. I am very happy to have the chance to meet with representatives of various organisations and associations, with everyone who values the Russia North. But above all, I would like to thank all Northerners for their work, their creativity, and of course for their determination. For the fact that by triumphing over harsh conditions, you work for the country and achieve success.
Yesterday, at the presidium of the State Council, we talked about what modern state policy in the North of Russia should be. A policy that is adequate to the requirements of the day and makes it possible in the new socio-economic conditions to reveal the potential and competitive advantages of the Russian North.
We said that enormous natural riches and an extensive territory mean unique possibilities and a significant resource of long-term, appreciable development not just for Russia’s northern territories, but for the entire country. And of course, for stable development of the northern regions, and an improvement in the living standard of the millions of people who live here.
Of course, life in northern regions was never easy. The North is the North. And due to the specifics of the climate, many of the country’s problems, such as the state of health, education and housing and communal services are more keenly felt here than in other regions in Russia. It is more difficult to solve them.
We also know about the ambiguous, difficult demographic processes, about disproportions on the labour market, the one-sided development of the economy and the crisis of vulnerable ecosystems. We discussed all of these issues yesterday.
It is clear that by redistributing finances alone, we cannot solve the existing issues, although this is also a problem which needs to be studied separately. And our task is to organise our work to find new solutions based on effective market mechanisms, along with the necessary forms of state support. Experience both in Russia and worldwide shows that these solutions are possible. They do exist. And I know that many people are working on them in the regions of the North. The governor and I were just at the data bank, at the centre where all information about the area is kept in electronic form. This is simply an outstanding example for other regions in the country to follow.
I would like to say that federal authorities should above all deal with issues of infrastructure of northern territories, if we are talking about the development of the economy. Of course, this is a long-term task. But already today, together with the regions, we need to find mechanisms that provide access for the population of northern territories to all the benefits of civilisation, which guarantee the opportunity to make use of high-quality social, transport, medical and education services.
People who live and work in the North should not feel cut off from the rest of the country. They should see clear prospects for themselves and their children.
We need systematic work to diversify factories, and master new equipment for making use of natural resources. This policy is directly linked to creating new work places. At the same time, we need to treat the ecological balance of nature in the North with care. We know how vulnerable it is.
I would also like to raise one issue which worries Northerners, about state guarantees and compensations. Today we also talked about this in great detail, and quite emotionally.
The state will continue to fulfil the social obligations it took on in the past. I want to point this out. This involves housing subsidies, “northern” pensions and salaries, state housing certificates, and programmes for resettlement in northern territories.
Today it is important to renew the economic and legal foundation of traditional forms of farming. For the native peoples of the North, this is not just a means of production. It is the foundation of their spirituality, their very way of life, and the preservation of the unique culture of the native peoples of the North. I was happy to see one of the villages where representatives of these native people live, not far from Salekhard. I must say that it was pleasing to see how people live in these villages. I hope that this is not the only village of this kind in the North. We do not have the right to lose the unique national and cultural richness of all these ethnic groups that live here.
Once more, I would like to stress something I have said many times: the greatest wealth of Russia is not even oil and gas, but the diverse culture of the peoples of the Russian Federation.
I think that it is now extremely important to make use of the institution of territorial self-administration of the native peoples of the North. A basis for its development exists in new legislation on local self-administration. Municipal formations will play a significant role in the development of the economy, culture, social and communal sphere. And serious preparation should already begin on this important work in regions.
We are approaching final decisions on these issues. Not everything has been fully developed (here I agree with regional heads), but eventually, we should reach a final decision.
In conclusion, I would like to stress once more: the Russian North is our huge, common wealth. It is our common property, and will also serve our grandchildren and great-grandchildren. And so we must not just make diligent use of it, but also seriously increase it.
And finally, the North has always been a kind of test of courage, comradeship and mutual help. I am pleased to hear representatives of diverse religions here. I am certain that with this invaluable human capital, we will be able to do a great deal. And we will definitely help the Russian North to gain a new dynamic in its development.
Thank you very much for your attention. That is all that I wanted to say at the beginning of our meeting today. I am sure that there will be many interesting speeches.