President Putin’s visit to the J8: not on the agenda but a more than welcomed surprise
Pushkin, (St. Petersburg), Russia
Russian president Vladimir Putin took time off from his busy schedule today and made a surprise visit to Junior 8 delegates at their conference center in a St. Petersburg suburb while they were discussing the issues of education and energy resources.
The Russian President impressed the young delegates, informing them of his views and giving them indelible memories for life.
``I was so excited that I almost cried,’’ said Kelly Velasquez, 15, a member of the U.S. delegation. ``My aunt really likes Putin, and even before we left the U.S. she said that whatever I do, I’ve got to get a photo with him. And I did!’’
Today began just like any other busy and intense day at the Junior 8, and there was no advance warning of the presidential visit. First on the schedule was an early morning video conference on HIV/AIDS between delegates and a UNICEF youth group in Bangkok.
After the coffee break and shortly before lunch, about 16 delegates were in a video conference on education with youth in Cairo when to their surprise a group of imposing, well-dressed men in black quickly entered the room. Within seconds, the Russian president, dressed in a stylish gray suit, minus a tie, followed them in.
The stunned delegates gasped, began murmuring to each other, but remained in their seats. Ignoring formalities and careful not to disrupt the meeting, Putin greeted the group and quickly took a seat between two astonished delegates. With great ease, the Russian president took up the issue of education that had already been under discussion for the past 90 minutes.
``I must be honest and admit that not everything promised regarding education has been fulfilled,’’ said Putin, his frankness appreciated by the audience. ``But education is a top issue on the G8 agenda.’’
The Russian president praised the work of the Junior 8, and then called for questions, giving the floor first to the youth in Cairo.
``Education is an important factor impacting world progress,’’ answered Putin to the Egyptian group’s question of what the G8 can do to help developing countries. ``It’s especially a factor for economic growth, and the G8 has a number of initiatives to help developing countries with education.’’
One of those initiatives, emphasized Putin, was the importance of making sure that girls be given equal access to education, in order to facilitate their participation as full-fledged members of society.
``It was good to know his views on education, and I liked what he said,’’ said Charlotte Millar, 14, a member of the U.K. delegation.
Toward the end of the meeting, to the shock and chagrin of the presidential guard, the delegates spontaneously crowded the president, shaking his hand and asking for photos. The Russian president motioned to his guards to back away, and he obliged the excited and smiling children.
``Only if there is peace and safety in the world can basic human rights such as education be fully guaranteed,’’ concluded Putin, speaking to the delegates about their meeting scheduled for July 16 with G8 leaders. ``All my colleagues at the G8 look forward to meeting with you.’’
Audios and Videos
16 July 2006: G8 Leaders met Junior 8 Children
Stories, by John Varoli