Working Day

23 august, 2010 16:47

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin visits the sites explored by the Russian and German expedition Lena 2010 and speaks with the research team

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin visits the sites explored by the Russian and German expedition Lena 2010 and speaks with the research team

While on a visit to Yakutia, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin made a quick stop in the village of Tiksi. From there he went to Samoilovsky Island to meet with the members of the Russian and German research expedition Lena 2010. Mr Putin was accompanied by the Minister of Natural Resources and Environment, Yury Trutnev, and director of the Ust-Lensky nature reserve Alexander Gukov.

After looking over the team's research results, Mr Putin held a meeting with them. He stressed that the government will increase the funding of geological survey projects in Siberia, thus bolstering the region's economy as a whole.

The prime minister noted that the results of this research would help determine the optimal measures to develop the region's economy and assured the researchers that he will support their projects. "This is a dynamic project, and in a critical area," Mr Putin said.

Speaking about actual measures to strengthen the region's economy, the prime minister mentioned the construction of the pipeline across Siberia to connect western Russia with the Pacific Ocean. He also highlighted the importance of road construction in the region. "This country is short of a comprehensive network of motorways to connect all its regions with one another," the prime minister said. "In winter, vehicles use either winter roads or the sea route across the Indian Ocean. This country needs a good highway network. The new Amur M58 highway [Chita-Khabarovsk] will connect the western and eastern parts of Russia for the first time in its history." He added that the government is planning to construct the Vostochny space centre in the Far East, and several support facilities will soon be constructed there to be used during the APEC summit in 2012, after which they will be transferred to the new Far Eastern University.

Transcript of the meeting:

Vladimir Putin: First of all, thank you for your invitation. I have never been at these latitudes before and I don't regret coming here. I see a good example of international cooperation here, critical for the development of Russia and this particular region, Siberia. The research of the environment and the climate here has great international value. We see how the environment is changing now, but we don't know exactly what was happening here 10,000 years ago. Your colleague has just spoken about it. Your methods, your research allow us to extrapolate what will happen to mankind and the climate in the near future.

In facing unusual climatic phenomena recently, which provoked wildfires in Central Russia, we understood that environmental problems are really pressing for us. I have just seen how fast the sea devours the coast and what permafrost looks like. It's very impressive. When you see something with your own eyes, not read about it in a newspaper or a magazine, it starts you thinking.

However, your colleague on my left hasn't answered my question whether the current changes are attributed to the anthropogenic factor, the influence of man, or if it's cyclical. The Earth breathes, lives, and these changes, spells of cold and hot weather, take place from time to time...

Ten thousand years ago mammoths began to die out, which is believed to have been caused by global warming primarily. Global warming, higher sea level and a shortage of fodder made them gather together in particular areas. And that happened without any influence from man. People in Russia and in the world in general would like to know what will happen next and what we should plan for.

I have toured your base. Your facilities are inadequate, to put it mildly. If you articulate what needs to be done - depending on the duration of your work, and I don't know how long you're planning to work here - we could help you upgrade this base using the funds of the federal budget, the Academy of Sciences and the Russian Geographic Society.

Peter Schreiber: Mr Putin, to do this properly, we need to establish an observatory with state-of-the-art equipment and supply system. But it will cost much and the three institutes that organise expeditions cannot afford it.

Remark: Maybe we should speak frankly about costs?

Peter Schreiber: We first need to do the calculations.

Vladimir Putin (as translated from German): I understand this. We have to do it step by step, rather than doing everything at once.

Peter Schreiber: Right.

Vladimir Putin: Gradually. Let's first talk about making a viable station out of this shed-like facility. Then we will think about an observatory. But that's a separate issue.

Peter Schreiber: Yes, that's right.

Mikhail Grigoryev: I would like to say that Mr Putin knows everyone here except for Anna Urban. She is doing her graduate course at the Institute of Permafrost Studies.

Vladimir Putin: This is the first I've ever heard of permafrost studies.

Mikhail Grigoryev: 65% of Russia's territory is covered by permafrost.

Anna Urban: Unfortunately, I can't show you here what I am doing because my research site is on the other side. I'm also doing some research work.

Mikhail Grigoryev: She is working at the town. This is very important since human activity has a large impact on the permafrost, even larger than the climate. Not that towns in the permafrost area are a pitiful site, but they face many problems.

Vladimir Putin: Sure they do.

Mikhail Grigoryev: Especially linear structures, such as roads. So, she is researching it all.

Anna Urban: Perhaps you noticed when you were driving here that the roads are bad and the houses are lopsided.

Vladimir Putin: Well, bad roads are no surprise anywhere in Russia, even where there is no permafrost.

Anna Urban: Nevertheless, it is especially evident here.

Vladimir Putin: Certainly, there are other dangers such as houses built on piles on the permafrost. And this happens to settlements...

Anna Urban: Yes, houses stand on piles. Many houses have collapsed recently. However, looking at a simple porch one can see that it shifts even over a year. I mean one can see the movements over just a year or two, rather than over ten years. That's what we are doing.

Vladimir Putin: This issue is crucial for this region. It is worth mentioning that there is another aspect of what you are doing here, which is very important for Russia. We are planning to develop minerals extraction in Eastern Siberia and we need an overview of the entire ecosystem so that we know how it will react and which methods are the most suitable for this area. Certain efforts are already being taken, and you've seen that geologists have camped close to your station and are searching for diamonds.

Remark: We have already installed our sensors in their wells.

Vladimir Putin: All in all, you can see that efforts are being taken to develop this area economically. And the company that is doing this is one of biggest diamond mining companies in the world, if not the biggest one. This company is cooperating with De Beers, it is a major company. They have signed contracts with De Beers both for mining and trading.

There are also other minerals here. According to rough estimates, the reserves discovered to date are worth approximately $5 trillion, including oil, natural gas, coal, gold and diamonds.

Vladimir Putin: Gold, diamonds, almost the entire periodic table of elements.

Remark: There are also gas hydrates there...

Mikhail Grigoryev: I don't know what I should begin with...

Vladimir Putin: You have already begun with the observatory, you only have to continue.

Mikhail Grigoryev: It would be great to establish an observatory but this year we need to finish this expedition successfully. We will work here until September 7. Our colleagues say that three researchers will stay here until November 22, continuing their long-term observations. Hopefully, they will not get bored here.

Peter Schreiber: First, we will not get bored because it is difficult to install the equipment and monitor it in winter. We will need a lot of electricity and will have to produce it ourselves. So, second, we will have to look after our diesel generators and maintain them.

Vladimir Putin: Heroes of the Russian Federation, I would say.

Peter Schreiber: Believe me, I know how hard it is to start a diesel generator when it is cold. So, this will be a good workout for my muscles.

But I am really glad that thanks to the cooperation with our Russian colleagues we can use cutting-edge observation equipment for the first time.

Vladimir Putin: Some devices have broken down, haven't they?

Peter Schreiber: Unfortunately, one laboratory machine, which we could have used this year, has broken down and we won't be able to use it. However, several devices worked successfully last year and this year we plan to carry out some measurements in winter and then return in early spring to measure permafrost data in order to monitor the changes in the permafrost and to analyse long term changes.

Vladimir Putin (speaking to Inken Preuss, a participant in the expedition): When do you plan to defend your thesis to receive the D.Sc. degree?

Inken Preuss: In a year and a half, I hope. Naturally, it would be great if those specimens and measurements we take here could get to Germany quicker. The transportation of these specimens is a very difficult process because the specimens we take must be kept cool. There is also an issue with customs procedures and customs clearance.

Alexander Makarov: As the head of this expedition, I would like to emphasise this issue. Apart from the problems we face when transporting our equipment, we also face major problems while transporting specimens. Naturally, we have had to go through these procedures year after year...

Vladimir Putin: What are these specimens? Is it what we have just done?

Alexander Makarov: Yes, these specimens are processed both at Russian and German laboratories but it is difficult to export them. We face major customs problems.

Vladimir Putin: What are these problems?

Alexander Makarov: Lots of paperwork...

Vladimir Putin: Let's try to arrange it properly. Formulate what these problems are.

Alexander Makarov: Yes, of course. Now?

Vladimir Putin: You may do it now or tomorrow morning...

Alexander Makarov: Will they pass it on to you?

Vladimir Putin: Yes, they will. The key issues and difficulties you face.

Alexander Makarov: The procedure of submitting an application for an expedition is also protracted and takes almost a year. When we return from this expedition, I will immediately submit an application for next year.

Vladimir Putin: What application do you submit and to where?

Alexander Makarov: I mean I don't do it personally.

Vladimir Putin: Who submits this application?

Alexander Makarov: The Federal Service for Hydrometeorology and Environmental Monitoring.

Vladimir Putin: This federal service submits this application?

Alexander Makarov: They submit these applications for expeditions annually.

Vladimir Putin: To where does this federal service submit the application?

Alexander Makarov: According to the procedure, an expedition must be agreed to by many ministries.

Vladimir Putin: There naturally has to be a procedure. But it must be a state-of-the-art procedure, I believe.

Alexander Makarov: It takes quite a lot of time.

Vladimir Putin: We will discuss this issue with the federal service. These are their problems.

Alexander Makarov: No. I believe that the agreement process is the reason...

Vladimir Putin: That's what I'm saying: the Federal Service for Hydrometeorology and Environmental Monitoring has problems organising this process. I mean that if they compile these applications...

Alexander Makarov: Yes, we send applications to this federal service...

Vladimir Putin: And they begin sending them out for agreements?

Alexander Makarov: Yes, they first send them to stations, to the Federal Service for Technical and Export Control, the Federal Security Service, the Ministry of Defence...

Vladimir Putin: I will talk to them.

Mikhail Grigoryev: Ultimately, this is our problem.

Vladimir Putin: It is a bit more difficult for you to settle it than for me.

Mikhail Grigoryev: Mr Putin, you have asked one researcher when she will defend...

Vladimir Putin: ...her thesis for the D.Sc. degree.

Mikhail Grigoryev: Yes. Please, ask Anna Urban the same question because our postgraduate students face problems with getting their degrees. If she tells you when she will defend her thesis, then we will be sure of it. Unfortunately, many postgraduate students fail to defend their thesis.

Vladimir Putin: What are the difficulties?

Anna Urban: Well, the only difficulty is getting to the site, it is connected with the expeditions. I fully depend on the expeditions; that's why I go to the sites with them.

Vladimir Putin: I don't understand what the difficulty is.

Anna Urban: The problem is always the same - financing. And time.

Mikhail Grigoryev: The question was when.

Anna Urban: I was asked another question - what the difficulty is. For example, a grant was once offered in Yakutia. There was so much fuss about it. The process was divided into three stages...

Vladimir Putin: What grant?

Anna Urban: A grant for young researchers. A competition was announced...

Vladimir Putin: Did the Ministry of Education and Science hold this competition?

Anna Urban: It was in Yakutsk, yes.

Vladimir Putin: Did the ministry provide it?

Anna Urban: No, our local government provided the funds.

Vladimir Putin: But those were federal funds.

Anna Urban: Yes. It so happened that we received the money for the first stage but the second and third stages somehow passed into oblivion...

Vladimir Putin: The process was hung up in the air?

Anna Urban: Yes. Now we don't know what will come next. We have begun the work and I have fully reported on the first stage.

Vladimir Putin: Now you are waiting for the second and third stages, aren't you?

Anna Urban: I have been waiting for them for over a year and a half now.

Vladimir Putin: So, this is the problem. You want them to...

Mikhail Grigoryev: We want them to work with us.

Anna Urban: We are working.

Vladimir Putin (as translated from German): What sly foxes they are.

Anna Urban: Mr Grigoryev seems to be really concerned with this.

Vladimir Putin: I see.

Mikhail Grigoryev: Many postgraduate students fail to get a degree. And this is a problem. It never happens like this in Germany.

Vladimir Putin: I will certainly find out about this grant. The second and third stages will be carried out.

Mikhail Grigoryev: Thank you very much.

Vladimir Putin: Once again, for whom is this grant?

Anna Urban: For young researchers.

Vladimir Putin: For which young researchers? There are many of them.

Anna Urban: For those from Yakutsk.

Vladimir Putin: For young researchers from Yakutsk?

Anna Urban: Yes, specifically for those from Yakutsk.

Vladimir Putin: I will find out about this. This grant equals...

Anna Urban: It is not big, but still.

Vladimir Putin: Fine. We will solve this issue. Don't worry and don't be ashamed.

Hanno Meier: I'd like to add something if you don't mind. You can see that there are a lot of young people from two countries on our team that are still young. We've been working in close cooperation over years. We have developed true friendship and full-fledged cooperation.

Our research centres embarked on this work back in 1998 and have accomplished a great deal since then. Now there are sixty people involved in this project, which was started by small expedition groups 12 years ago.

Our cooperation has been very prolific - Russian and German researchers have set up the Otto Schmidt laboratory in St Petersburg. We hold classes for young scientists, Pomor, to study the environment of polar regions and seas.

We all feel so strongly that our cooperation and contacts have built into genuine friendship and a good research project of great value.

And I hope we'll continue to strengthen this cooperation so that it'll be easier for Russian students to carry out this work, take part in joint research projects, have their internship and do research in Germany. The same goes for German researchers. We benefit from this interaction very much.

Vladimir Putin: I'll instruct the Minister of Education and Science to work out measures to support you. This project has been very interesting from the outset. Your opinion is absolutely justified. I say this with no irony.

Alexander Makarov: In addition to what my colleague, Hanno, just said, we've been cooperating for some time. We'll have a regular conference in St Petersburg in November to sum up the results of our work, and most of my colleagues who are present here today will...

Vladimir Putin: In St Petersburg in November?

Alexander Makarov: Yes, in St Petersburg, in early November, and we'd like to invite you.

Vladimir Putin: Thank you for your invitation. By that time we'll have summed up the preliminary results of the measures to be taken in the wake of this meeting.

You shouldn't assume that I've just called on you to see how you're doing here. I've actually been working today. I've been exploited, really. I asked your German colleagues when I should go to the cashier's office to get paid. Well, they didn't answer me.

But on a serious note, as far as support for your joint projects, your question is justified. This is a dynamic project. What you've said is right. The key thing is that you're working on something really important.

How long are you planning to work here?

Waldemar Schneider: I guess ten years at least. Hard to tell...

Vladimir Putin: I'm not asking about the administrative resources needed to carry on with this project, but about the research potential of this place.

Waldemar Schneider: Ten years and beyond. We're carrying out long-term observation of climate change, methane emissions and much more.

Vladimir Putin: And this is the perfect place to make these observations?

Waldemar Schneider: Yes, it's the perfect place.

Vladimir Putin: How about the fact that the sea is devouring the coast?

Waldemar Schneider: We've already started constructing a new facility at the highest area of the island. It's the safest place so far. We're planning to commission this facility in 2012. We'll be able to live and have a lab there.

Vladimir Putin: Where did you start your work as a researcher?

Waldemar Schneider: I'm not a researcher, I organise...

Vladimir Putin: Okay, where did you start?

Waldemar Schneider: In the Tyumen Region.

Vladimir Putin: I can't tell where you live and work. In Russia? In Germany?

Waldemar Schneider: I live in Germany and work in Russia.

Vladimir Putin: Two mentalities...

Waldemar Schneider: I'd like to tell you about one proposal if you don't mind. We've started taking long-term measurements here. The longer we're on that, the more accurate and valuable the data we'll receive. If we continue this research here, this will be the only place in the Arctic region where such long-term surveys are carried out.

On the other hand, given the experience we've accumulated here - and I repeat, this is the only place you can find such long-term monitoring - we could deploy similar stations throughout the Arctic.

Vladimir Putin: What do the other countries in the Arctic region do in this field?

Mikhail Grigoryev: A lot of research on permafrost is done in Alaska. Interestingly, the permafrost is different in Alaska than it is in Siberia.

Vladimir Putin: The frost is stronger in Siberia I assume?

Mikhail Grigoryev: Not only that. Permafrost lies deeper in Siberia, which is also very curious. It's important to use the data received from both Alaska and Siberia to make accurate climate change predictions and analyse the dynamics of climate change.

We certainly need long-term data. This is the only station where the necessary measurements are made. Researchers at other stations in Siberia could take advantage of our expertise. We could have several such stations in the region. And this would benefit our research here as well. We could not only extrapolate the conclusions we've made here to forecast how the situation will change in Siberia as a whole, but also analyse the dynamics of the climate change in Siberia more thoroughly. New climatic models will be more accurate. So far the analysis of permafrost hasn't received due attention in the analysis of climate change although the deposits of carbonates on Earth are quite vast.

Remark: We'll try to do more research in the Tyumen area.

Svetlana Yevgrafova: Mr Putin, we, at the Institute of Forest, are also working on similar projects. The territory of central Evenkia is covered by forests that grow on permafrost.

Vladimir Putin: Are there dense forests there?

Svetlana Yevgrafova: Yes, larch forests. We're trying to build something like that here, similar research.

Vladimir Putin: And who carries out the research of permafrost on the seabed? 

Mikhail Grigoriev: There's almost no one on the sea but us. Researching the permafrost in the sea - may I talk about the prospects?

Vladimir Putin: Yes.

Mikhail Grigoriev: Here is our general information, what operations... If you have time - leaf through it. There's also information about permafrost, and what wasn't mentioned here is emphasised, because many of our colleagues on various endeavours are absent.

Mr Putin, you are probably aware that the Russian Arctic is not developing very much. Unfortunately, many villages - Tiksi is not the worst - are stagnating. People are leaving, and there is little work. What served as the catalyst for West Siberian Arctic development? Of course, it was hydrocarbons; in any case, natural resources. Now they're starting to develop the sea - in the Barents Sea, and they're already starting to drill in the Kara Sea. There are no wells deeper than 20 metres in the Laptev Sea and in the East Siberian Sea.

In principle, geologists say that the areas are promising for hydrocarbons in general and gas hydrates in particular. They are relatively close. We have elevated concentrations of methane over these seas. But the fact is that we should invest. After all, it is easier to develop areas that are closer to the centre - that's clear, but I'm moved to tears by the state of our eastern shelf. Are there any such plans? Perhaps, you know, maybe, Rosneft, Gazprom - I do not know who is drilling? Are there any plans for exploration at least?

Vladimir Putin: Economic activities of this kind are related to efficiency, above all. Even now, if we talk about the Shtokman project, it is 300 km from the coast in the Barents Sea. This will be expensive. And extraction is moving farther and farther to the eastern part of the country. We are doing this independently and with partners.

For example, we are developing the Yuzhnorusskoye field together with German partners.

Alexander Makarov: Sakhalin...

Vladimir Putin: Sakhalin. There are Americans, Indians and Japanese there. As for the eastern part, it's quite promising - especially the Yamal Peninsula. There, for example, natural gas reserves are measured in trillions of cubic metres. The reserves of Yamal alone are comparable with those of the largest gas producers in the world.

But, of course, we need to invest heavily in infrastructure development there. This includes infrastructure for liquid hydrocarbons - oil and gas condensate. We have an entire programme for the development of this infrastructure - pipelines, railways, highways.

Fields that were discovered recently are being developed using the most modern techniques. I was very glad when I saw that the drilling master, who was drilling a well and was receiving instructions on what to do and where to go in real time from Moscow, where a research centre operates round the clock, analyses the situation and gives instructions to all drilling rigs throughout Russia where Rosneft is operating.

And all of this is connected to a data network via satellite systems. There is, of course, no comparison with the facilities that I see here. They built a modern city in the permafrost, both in terms of life and work. This is understandable. Where there is business, there is money and the right conditions. And what you're doing - that makes people passionate, even fanatics, I would say. But first, we'll try to do something by November, at least outline some steps.

I mentioned at the outset that, of course, we plan gradual development here. For example, fields in Western Siberia are being gradually depleted, and we will continue to go farther into Eastern Siberia. We have already developed customised solutions to facilitate investment in the region. In terms of fiscal matters, we exempted Eastern Siberia from taxes, because the region requires large infrastructure investments.

You know that we laid a pipeline across almost all of Western and Eastern Siberia to the Pacific Ocean. This will help begin the development of the deposit in Eastern Siberia. Part of it - we have already completed our part - will go to China. We built a large port in the Far East - we are currently building a large network of pipelines there. We are finishing the highway from Chita to Khabarovsk. In fact, this is an historic event for Russia. Russia has never been entirely connected by road through its territories. Until recently - 100 years ago, or how many, up until 1903? - in order to travel from European Russia to the Far East, people either travelled on the winter road in winter or on ships across the Indian Ocean.

A railway was built by 1904, and this was because of an impending war with Japan. In Soviet times, another branch of this railroad was built as a result of deteriorating relations with China. And there was no highway at all. And now we are completing 2,500 km between Chita and Khabarovsk. And for the first time in history, Russia will be connected by roads throughout its territory - you'll be able to drive from its westernmost to its easternmost point.

Remark: From Moscow to Yakutsk!

Vladimir Putin: As for Yakutsk, it is a matter of building a railway and a bridge, and there is a plan for this part too. We need more power capacity, and that entails the construction of the Boguchanskaya hydroelectric power plant. You know, it's already being built.

But besides this, we'll need to develop high-tech sectors and production there. We plan to start construction of a new Russian space centre in this region and very soon we will lay the cornerstone.

Well, then you know that in the Far East, we are planning to launch a major international event in 2012 - the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit. The entire complex that will be built there - and it is now being built as fast as humanly possible - will be given to the newly founded Far Eastern University. And I think that there will be - I would really like for there to be - an excellent facility for good scientific research. And I hope that the specialists in your field will also be represented there.

And so I'll see you at the meeting in November, if I manage to attend. I wish you success. Thank you.

Vladimir Shnaider: Mr Putin, we want to give you this book. These are scientific articles about the region.

Vladimir Putin: Thanks very much.

Vladimir Shnaider:  This is a collection of articles by Russian and German experts. Approximately half of these articles come from our organisation, I mean our expedition, and the other half comes from our colleagues in marine geology. The only difference is that they work at sea, while we are work on the land. But we've met and we hold conferences together.

Vladimir Putin: Thank you very much.