1 august, 2009 16:15  

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin told journalists about his descent to the bottom of Lake Baikal aboard the Mir-1 submersible and answered questions


Transcript of the beginning of the meeting:   

Vladimir Putin: I've never experienced anything like this, these feelings are special.

First of all, we have to be proud of the technology and the experts we have. I doubt there are professionals of this quality anywhere else.

The things that I have seen in the deep are impressive, and experiencing this in person is much better than listening to stories about it. I could see the lake in all its glory. Researchers see this often, as it is their job. The natural environment and geology of the lake are beautiful. This dive gave me a fresh perspective for the ecological issues of Baikal: what we can do and what we cannot. We have already discussed this in detail.

We also spoke about the possible use of this equipment for the needs of the national economy, major companies, and maybe the Navy. We will have to discuss the feasibility of matching the equipment's capabilities with our current needs.

I would like to express my gratitude to the employees of the Academy of Sciences for providing me with such an outstanding opportunity to descend to the bottom of Baikal to see the unique nature of this deep lake.

Question: Mr Putin, do you often visit the Far East and Siberia? Yesterday, there was a large meeting on energy. You said many times that the region's potential is far from being fully exploited.

Meanwhile, the parameters of the new budget bring many new problems. Will the crisis affect your plans and those of the Government in developing the Far Eastern economy?

Vladimir Putin: Obviously, the current global downturn has affected our plans, but nearly all of our plans for the Far East and East Siberia will remain unchanged, because this region is very important for the country.

I would like to stress that we have maintained our comprehensive approach, which we have improved in recent years. We will continue in this direction. This includes high technology, the aircraft industry, shipbuilding, the energy sector, power generation and hydrocarbon resources.

I have mentioned that we have huge oil and gas deposits here. Almost no country in the world has the resources we have.

I have mentioned the quantity: the reserves exceed 36 trillion cubic meters of natural gas. There is gold and gems, and various metals, all of which will be extracted. We will continue developing the infrastructure, including the pipeline transport, airports and motorways.

As you know, Russian Railways is stretching the BAM (Baikal-Amur Mainline) further; so we shall move further in this direction. Besides that, there are projects based on special economic zones. You must know that Sakhalin Island already hosts a high-technology energy industry which we will further develop. As you can see, there is a wide spectrum of work to be done in developing the Far East and East Siberia in many areas.

Question: Mr. Putin, my name is Maria Morgun. I talked with you over the hydrophone when you were deep in the lake. You said that you could see a clean floor, while some environmentalists have been ringing the alarm recently, insisting that Baikal is polluted and in great danger. Today, the Oceanology Institute Director told you that the lake's ecosystem has the unique ability to cleanse itself and even the existing industrial facilities can't do any real harm to it. Could the rumors of the environmental problems of the lake possibly be exaggerated? Did you see any signs of a catastrophe at the bottom?

Vladimir Putin: I think the environmentalists are doing the right thing when they warn us of the risks. That is their major role to warn Russia and the global community and remind us of the necessity to be careful with nature. The overall stress that the environment is experiencing around the world is such that many ecosystems fail to regenerate. Therefore, the warnings appear to be timely and reasonable.

As for Baikal, I saw it myself, and members of the Academy of Sciences can prove this: Baikal is in very good condition. There are almost no traces of pollution. The lake's biological ecosystem remains unchanged. We can see much plankton and many other native life forms in it. As far as I understand, and the researchers can back this up, no negative changes have occurred in the lake.

Our goal, however, is to prevent any damage, and we will therefore remain attentive to what the environmentalists say.

Meanwhile, we should not forget the people living and working here. We will have to balance environmental protection while meeting the needs of the local population.

Question: Does this mean that the pulp-and-paper mill will begin production again?

Vladimir Putin: I wouldn't rule out that happening. We need to develop a feasible and effective programme. In the first place, we must create jobs before we reconfigure or shut down production facilities.

If you look at the local employment issues, over 1,600 people have lost their jobs. In summer, people pick berries and grow vegetables, but what will they do later? And they have families.

Certainly, I would like to reiterate that we are not going to be careless about the environment or Lake Baikal. We should also be very careful and consider the local population by creating new jobs and reconfiguring industry before shifting people to new positions to avoid leaving them jobless.

Thank you for your attention.