‘Junior 8’ delegates meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin

© UNICEF Russia/2006/Svirid
Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks with young leaders of the Junior 8 Youth Forum outside St. Petersburg, Russia.

By John Varoli

PUSHKIN, Russia, 14 July 2006 – Russian President Vladimir Putin made a surprise visit to meet with delegates at the 'Junior 8' Youth Forum outside of St. Petersburg today, catching the participants in the middle of a video conference with youths in Cairo.

"I was so excited that I almost cried," said Kelly Velasquez, 15, a member of the US delegation. "My aunt really likes Putin, and even before we left the US she said that whatever I do I’ve got to get a photo with him. And I did!"

The day began like any other working day at the Junior 8, and there was no advance warning of the presidential visit. Mr. Putin appeared shortly before lunch dressed in a stylish gray suit, minus the tie.

Ignoring formalities and careful not to disrupt the meeting, Mr. Putin greeted the group and quickly took a seat between two astonished delegates. With great ease, he took up the issue under discussion – education.

Education a top G8 priority

"I must be honest and admit that not everything promised regarding education has been fulfilled," said Mr. Putin. "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 youths in Cairo.

"Education is an important factor impacting world progress," Mr. Putin said in answer to the Egyptian group’s question about 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 Mr. Putin, involves making sure that girls have 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 UK delegation.

Next up: Meeting the other seven

Toward the end of the meeting, the youth delegates spontaneously crowded the president, shaking his hand and asking for photos. Mr. Putin motioned to his bodyguards to back away, and obliged the excited children.

"Only if there is peace and safety in the world can basic human rights such as education be fully guaranteed," he concluded. "All my colleagues at the G8 look forward to meeting with you."

The 64 young leaders at the Junior 8 summit have been debating and discussing for the past week the recommendations they will deliver to G8 leaders on 16 July. With the help of translators and radio headsets, the delegations representing all of the G8 countries have bridged five languages to focus on the key issues of education, energy and HIV/AIDS.




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14 July 2006:
UNICEF correspondent Thomas Nybo reports on President Vladimir Putin's visit with ‘Junior 8’ youth delegates in Pushkin, near St. Petersburg, Russia.
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