President of Russia Vladimir Putin: Good afternoon.
Please, go ahead.
Maria Sidibe, RIA Novosti: The EAEU is finishing the year with excellent growth numbers across the board, and I wanted to know what you attribute this to, because the global economy is in a tight spot and more sanctions are being imposed. Where do these numbers come from?
What do you think about the outcome of today's meeting? Also, what will become of the EAEU as we go forward? What are your near- and medium-term forecasts?
Vladimir Putin: Regarding good results, they could have been better. We wanted them to be better. True, some said the Russian economy would fall by 20 percent. There is a decline, indeed, but only 2.9 percent. Without a doubt, this is a big difference, and we know that those who predicted this scenario for us were sorely mistaken, while we did not make a mistake.
We cannot say that we are doing fine either, however, because there is a recession. But our situation is indeed better than in many other countries in several ways. Inflation, as I mentioned, will be a little over 12 percent, around 12.2–12.3 percent for the year, whereas in Europe it will be anywhere from 17 to 20 percent, even above 20 percent. This is absolutely off the scale for the European economy. This is clearly the case, no one made these numbers up. The same applies to food and construction, and I mentioned earlier as well.
Regarding the EAEU in general, the situation is stable. One of the key benchmarks, unemployment, is lower than in many other countries. What is this result based on? Well, it is based on the foundations of our economies, including the Russian economy in no small measure, and on the economic stabilisation measures that we are taking in Russia and the EAEU as a whole.
Unlike some countries, we are not closing down anything. We are not breaching market economy principles. We are not imposing any restrictions on ourselves. On the contrary, we are doing our best to ensure the free flow of capital, goods and labour. This is important for us and for our EAEU partners. It has practical importance.
Speaking of macroeconomic indicators, the stability of the Russian currency, the ruble, has a beneficial effect on our partners’ economies and financial systems.
Say, we are talking about unemployment. It is lower here than during the pandemic: 4.7 percent before the pandemic and 3.9 percent now. But it is vital for our EAEU partners. It is no secret that hundreds of thousands if not millions of citizens from these countries, our friends and partners, work in Russia. This means their labour is in demand. This means they are sending money [home] to support their families in their countries, and this money is a substantial part of revenues of this or that country. This is the next part.
One more component is the energy market. I have already said that gas prices in Europe are skyrocketing. They are already …1,700 [dollars for a thousand cubic metres], right?
What is the current price, Alexei?
Gazprom CEO Alexei Miller: 1,500.
Vladimir Putin: No, no, it was 1,700 the day before yesterday.
The gas we sell to some countries is more than 10 times cheaper. Do you understand this? Not just ten times cheaper but more than 10 times cheaper. But this is a stabilising factor for the economies of our partners – they can forecast their development, support their households and manufacturing industries. They are all developing agriculture, in part, based on the chemical industry, based on fertilisers. All are developing fertilisers very fast. This is a very efficient industry.
We do not have any problems with basic products – we are exporters. We supply our partners with food as well and at quite affordable prices, wherever they need it.
This is how it all looks in a package. I would say that what also matters in the final result is the desire to work together and seek solutions, even where it took us years to reach them in the course of difficult talks, but this was the result. We are still figuring it out and coming to terms.
Therefore, all this taken together gives joint work a positive result. I really agree with this.
You have also asked me about our next steps, right?
Maria Sidibe: Yes. I asked what you think about the development of the organisation in the near future.
Vladimir Putin: Our next steps and development prospects. I think our prospects are very good, and our next steps are very specific.
The first thing we need to do, on which we agreed, and I think this is a very important agreement – we agreed to create a mechanism to support our cooperation activities in real production, in the industrial sector. I believe this is very important for enhancing our general technological self-sufficiency, our technological sovereignty. Incidentally, this is the result of our work today.
In the near future, the next couple of years or so, we must bring to life the earlier achieved agreements, such as to create a single gas market over the next two years, to identify the principles of its operation and to move on to building a common electricity market which is a critically important matter for us as well. It is hard work, and there are many questions related to coordinating our positions.
You know, we had a very good discussion about this, and many things became clear. It is not Russia's position to hold the line on prices, to raise prices, or not to send something to someone. No. It is a matter of price and, above all, a matter of coordinating economic policy.
Subsidising domestic prices is done at different levels, and different reasons are behind this approach, including socioeconomic and even political and historical reasons. In a given country, housing and utility prices are heavily subsidised, and these subsidies cannot be cancelled overnight due to a number of socio-political and even economic reasons. It takes time to get there. In another country, subsidies might be lower and prices are determined by the market.
Let's take transport tariffs. Look, tariffs are about the same anywhere you go in Russia. They may differ slightly, but we are trying to level them. Where would the cheapest gas be? A place that is the closest to the gas field with no transport expenses. Gas should be the cheapest in the Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Area. But Russia is a vast country, and we cannot make gas cheap in only the Yamalo-Nenets Area and insanely expensive in the Far Eastern Federal District or on our western borders.
In fact, we subsidise transport costs for the end consumer. But in order for us to be able to talk about a single gas market, we must come up with common subsidising principles. Everyone understands this. This takes time, teamwork in the area of taxation, in our efforts to coordinate the rules and amend tax codes, and in the functioning of the tax system itself based on the latest technology. There are no differences or misunderstandings as to how we are supposed to get these results. All we need to do is work hard over the next two years. I think we will be able to achieve good results in many of these areas.
The prospects for expanding the transport infrastructure and supply chains are excellent. Many countries are interested in the new, modern North-South and East-West corridors. Everyone, even the countries that are not members of our organisation, are willing – if we go ahead with some of the earlier announced projects – to join us in co-financing, because it is a highly lucrative project.
We have lots of important and exciting projects that are of interest to all EAEU members. If there is interest, I am sure the organisation will become stronger, and these projects will get implemented.
Aysel Gereikhanova, Rossiyskaya Gazeta: A question about Viktor Bout. For a long time, Russia sought his exchange, and it has finally happened. I would like to hear the details: who led the talks, will they continue? And do these meetings on the exchange indicate that there is a chance to establish a broader dialogue with the Americans, or is this just about the swap?
And one more question: will Sergei Naryshkin's contacts with the head of the CIA continue?
Vladimir Putin: So, as far as swaps are concerned, this subject is being handled by us, in this case, it was handled by the Federal Security Service, the FSB. The FSB was agreeing on and negotiating this initially and achieved the results you have just heard about. The contacts continue; in fact, they never stopped at the level of special services.
Are other swaps possible? Yes, anything is possible. This is the result of talking and searching for compromise. In this case, compromises were found. We will not refuse to continue this work in the future.
Can this be considered a precedent to a dialogue with the United States on other issues? This is a special question, a specific one, frankly. We did not have the goal to move from these talks to other ones. Of course, they create a certain atmosphere, it is true; but no other issues were discussed as part of these talks. This is the first thing.
Second, regarding contacts between the special services, the Foreign Intelligence Service and the CIA, from one side and the other. This was not our initiative but was initiated by the American side. President Biden suggested this, and we agreed, as you can see. We generally did not expect anything supernatural from the talks; they were held in a normal working mode. The partners agreed that these meetings would continue.
Pavel Zarubin, Rossiyskaya Gazeta: Good evening.
Back to oil and gas prices: the price cap on Russian oil introduced by the West is one of the most discussed global topics in the last few days.
There are already a lot of arguments about this, so I would like to ask such a specific question. How will we ultimately respond to this? Will this response be proportionate, symmetrical, asymmetrical? And what will happen to the Russian budget in the end? Will Russia have enough revenue?
Vladimir Putin: Do not worry about this. The point is this: the proposed cap is in line with today’s prices. In this sense, this policy does not affect us in any way; frankly, it does not matter much to us.
Yes, formally, oil prices are a little higher, but they are a little lower for our blend. Brent prices are higher, and Urals prices are slightly lower, plus we offer discounts to many of our partners. Everything comes down to that number. We will not lose anything under any circumstance.
But this is not the point. This concerns not only us, but all producers, because if anyone ever agrees to consumers setting prices, it will destroy the industry, because consumers will always want low prices. Even without that, the industry is underinvested and underfunded, and if we heed what consumers are telling us, then the investment will come to nothing. At some point this will trigger a disastrous surge in prices and the global energy market will collapse. This is how it will end up. This proposal is stupid, ill-conceived and poorly evaluated. So, it is not about us, but about the overall situation in global energy and global energy markets. It [the proposal] is bad for global energy markets. Again, we are already selling at about these prices, so do not worry about the budget.
To reiterate, it would be a stupid thing to do for everyone, including consumers, to follow some kind of non-market, harmful decision. Consumers need to realise that if they insist on prices they like, even if they have these prices, prices will then plummet, investment will be reduced to zero, and ultimately the prices will skyrocket and this will backfire on those who are imposing these kinds of solutions.
With regard to our response, I said earlier that we will simply not sell energy resources to countries that adopt such policies. We will even think about – I am not saying we have decided on this – but we will think, if necessary, about a production cut. We have an agreement with OPEC Plus on a production target. We will give it further thought, if needed. I am talking about Russia now. Again, we are thinking about this, but no decisions have been made yet. Specific steps will be outlined in a Presidential Executive Order that will be issued soon.
Konstantin Panyushkin, Channel One: Good afternoon.
A question about the special military operation.
What do you think about the status of the SMO?
Talking with human rights activists on Wednesday, you said, this is a quote: “This will be a lengthy process.” If possible, can you explain what you had in mind?
And another question from the same meeting. You said, and I quote: “If Russia does not use nuclear weapons first, it won’t use them second, either.” This caused an uproar. Please explain what you meant.
Vladimir Putin: As for the length of the SMO, I was referring to the time needed for the settlement process. The SMO is running its course and everything is stable – there are no questions or problems there now. As you can see, the Defence Ministry operates transparently. It reflects everything that is taking place in reality, on the ground, in its daily reports. This is how it stands, objectively, in this regard. I have nothing to add.
As for the settlement process in general – yes, it will probably be complicated and will take some time. But one way or another, the parties to this process will have to accept the realities that are taking shape on the ground. This is the first part of your question.
Now the second part. I understand that everyone is worried and has always been worried since the advent of nuclear arms, and weapons of mass destruction in general. People, all of humanity, have been concerned about what will happen to the planet and to us? But look what I had in mind, I will explain some things.
The United States has this theory of a preventive strike. This is the first point. Now the second point. They are developing a system for a disarming strike. What does that mean? It means striking at control centres with modern high-tech weapons to destroy the opponent’s ability to counterattack, and so on.
What are these modern weapons? These are cruise missiles that we did not have at one time – we did not have land-based cruise missiles. We removed them; we scrapped them. Meanwhile, the Americans were smarter at that time when they were holding talks with the Soviet Union. They scrapped land-based missiles but retained air- and sea-based missiles that were not covered by the treaty, and we became defenceless. But now we have them and they are more modern and even more efficient.
There were plans to deliver a preventive disarming strike with hypersonic weapons. The United States does not have these weapons, but we do. Regarding a disarming strike, perhaps we should think about using the achievements of our US partners and their ideas about how to ensure their own security. We are just thinking about this. No one was shy about discussing it out loud in the past. This is the first point.
The United States has a theory and even practice. They have the concept of a preventive strike in their strategy and other policy documents. We do not. Our Strategy talks about a retaliatory strike. There are no secrets whatsoever. What is a retaliatory strike? That is a response strike. It is when our early warning system, the missile attack warning system, detects missiles launched towards Russian Federation territory. First, it detects the launches, and then response actions begin.
We hold regular exercises of our nuclear forces. You can see them all, we are not hiding anything. We provide information under our agreements with all nuclear countries, including the United States. We inform our partners that we are conducting these exercises. Rest assured they do the exact same thing.
After the early warning system receives a signal indicating a missile attack, hundreds of our missiles are launched and they cannot be stopped. But it is still a retaliatory strike. What does that mean? It means that enemy missile warheads will fall on the territory of the Russian Federation. This cannot be avoided. They will fall anyway. True, nothing will remain of the enemy, because it is impossible to intercept hundreds of missiles. And this is, without a doubt, a potent deterrent.
But if a potential adversary believes it is possible to use the preventive strike theory, while we do not, this still makes us think about the threat that such ideas in the sphere of other countries’ defence pose to us.
That is all I have to say about that.
Yulia Bubnova, TASS: Good afternoon.
Angela Merkel said the other day that at the time the Minsk agreements were signed with the express purpose of giving Ukraine time to prepare and then to fight Russia.
Could you explain how we should understand this? Did we know that our partners were treating us in this way?
Vladimir Putin: Honestly, this was a complete surprise to me. This is disappointing.
Frankly speaking, I did not expect to hear this from the former Federal Chancellor because I always thought that the leaders of the Federal Republic of Germany were sincere with us. Of course, they were on Ukraine’s side and supported Ukraine, but I still thought they had always been sincerely striving for a settlement on the principles which we had agreed on and which were accepted, including in the Minsk agreements.
What you have just said only shows that we did everything right by starting the special military operation. Why? Because it transpired that nobody was going to fulfil these Minsk agreements. The Ukrainian leaders also mentioned this, in the words of former President Poroshenko, who said he signed the agreements but was not going to fulfil them.
But I was still hoping that other participants in this process were sincere with us. It appears they were deceiving us as well. The only purpose was to pump arms into Ukraine and get it ready for hostilities. We are seeing this, yes. Apparently, we got our bearings too late, frankly. Perhaps we should have started all this sooner, but we still simply hoped to come to terms under these Minsk peace agreements.
What can one say to this? Of course, the issue of trust is at stake. Trust as such is already close to zero, but after such statements, the issue of trust is coming to the fore. How can we negotiate anything? What can we agree upon? Is it possible to come to terms with anyone, and where are the guarantees? This is, of course, a problem.
But eventually we will have to come to terms all the same. I have already said many times that we are ready for these agreements, we are open. But, naturally, all this makes us wonder with whom we are dealing.
Ksenia Golovanova, Interfax: Mr President, did you have a chance to discuss, here in Bishkek, with the President of Kazakhstan and the Prime Minister of Uzbekistan the idea that President Tokayev recently expressed, citing you, regarding the creation of some kind of tripartite gas union.
It is a known fact that Tashkent has been receiving gas from Gazprom via Turkmenistan for a long time now. Why was the issue of Russian gas supplies brought up at this point, which gas pipeline system could be used for this, and do you think gas distribution from Russia to Uzbekistan could start soon?
Vladimir Putin: There are no secrets here.
We started with the first question. Your colleague asked this question and kind of indicated that, overall, the EAEU countries’ economies are in satisfactory condition, stable at least, and prospects are good. This is the way it really is. This means that these economies will grow. They are growing now and will continue to grow in the future. In turn, it means that energy consumption will increase. There are shortages already.
And energy-producing, gas-producing countries like Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan are looking forward, and this is the right approach. They have excellent economic teams and stable political leadership. The presidents of both countries are looking forward and running the numbers to see how much they will need in the coming years. They are coming to the conclusion that they will need higher volumes and more resources, keeping in mind, among other things, their export obligations from previous years. They have export obligations to deal with.
All of that – their own higher consumption needs and their export obligations that they need to honour – have us sitting down again and comparing notes to see how it works out and if we can do more. Can we do it or not? Yes, we can. But there are many questions.
For example, northern Kazakhstan gets its gas from Orenburg. However, gas goes to Orenburg, to our gas processing plant, from Karachaganak, a gas field in Kazakhstan. It goes to Kazakhstan at domestic Russian prices. In order to pump gas to Uzbekistan, we need to use a gas transport system that was built back in the Soviet Union. It needs to be repaired since it is in a state of disrepair. There are two gas lines. One is not used at all, and the second is used to transport gas from Karachaganak to Orenburg. So, if this gas is to be sent to Uzbekistan, should it be forwarded directly or reversed and then sent? This is a big question.
This begs another question: in that case, we need to build a separate pipeline system via Kazakhstan to Uzbekistan and build internal infrastructure for additional distribution to Central Asia in Russia which will cost us around 260 billion rubles.
There are many issues that need to be looked into and mutually agreed upon, maybe we will even need to reach compromises. Compromises can definitely be struck. In this sense, it could be an energy alliance. But we also have obligations to the EAEU countries. Uzbekistan is still an observer state, but it is also a good opportunity for Uzbekistan to take a closer look at EAEU activities and find common ground with it.
There is not a single insurmountable obstacle here, but it requires systemic work at the expert level and financial evaluations, coordination, and participation of each country in these investments. Everyone is ready to go, by the way. Everyone wants to be part of this teamwork and some are even ready for joint investment. This is a positive, big, and very promising work with good prospects. We will work on it.
The work is underway. Our colleagues from Kazakhstan are coming to Moscow, I think. Our colleagues from Uzbekistan were in Moscow not long ago. Alexei Miller will go there, and this effort is underway at the level of deputy prime minister. Work is underway; it has a good foundation to build on, and I am sure the results will be good.
I saw someone raise their hand. Please, go ahead.
Edmund Zhelbunov, NTV: Thank you very much.
Mr President, a quick follow-up on the SMO. I could not help noticing the badge you are wearing today.
You recently said that there is definitely no need to resume the partial mobilisation at this point. To make it a little more specific, what factors could make you reconsider? Or, Russians definitely have nothing to worry about, even after the New Year celebrations?
Vladimir Putin: No, I do not see such factors today. Like I said, 300,000 men were called up as part of the mobilisation – let me say it again – 150,000 have been deployed with the force. Of those who are in the force, only half, or a little more, 77,000 are deployed with combat units. The other half are deployed with the second or third tier. Actually, they act as territorial troops, or engage in additional training. Another 150,000 are not even in the force yet. They are at the training grounds and training bases. What additional mobilisation? Half of all mobilised recruits can be considered a combat reserve. So, there is no reason to talk about an additional mobilisation. This is out of question as we speak.
Alexander Yunashev, Life: Will you let them go at some point? Is it necessary to replace them with someone else?
Vladimir Putin: You know, strange as it may seem, we also discussed this. We will have to see how it goes, how it develops. Perhaps it would make sense to replace some formations with others – in this case, they will still have the status of participants in hostilities. Some people may be still undergoing training say, in the Far East or Siberia, whereas others may be fighting in the zone of hostilities. These are different things. But it is necessary to look at all this. The Defence Ministry and the General Staff are thinking about this and will make a decision. At any rate, as for mobilisation, I think I have given an exhaustive answer to this question.
Let’s have another question, please.
Don Courter, Russia Today: Mr President, Josep Borrell said Africa supports Russia because of this – I quote: “You can consider that these people do not know where Donbass is or maybe they do not even know who Putin is.”
What is your response to this?
Vladimir Putin: Borrell is a big, major figure of our time, a political figure of our time, as Brezhnev was once described.
But people in Africa know what Russia is and where Russia is located. Africans know the role that Russia played in their liberation from colonialism. There is practically not a single African country that would not receive our support at one time – political, information, economic and sometimes military support. We have very stable, very kind and friendly relations with African nations and they continue.
If the people you were talking about knew where Africa is located and what state African nations are in, they would not have prevented the supplies of Russian food and Russian fertilisers from reaching the African continent. Eventually, the harvest in African countries and the saving of hundreds of thousands of people in Africa from starvation depend on these supplies.
Our fertilisers have not yet even left some seaports of European countries. Meanwhile, as I have said many times, we are ready to provide them to African countries free of charge. Partially this process got underway under pressure from the UN Secretary-General but the problem has not been resolved up to this day.
Let certain EU politicians stop chatting about their love of African nations and start giving direct support to them. Instead of buying up food on global markets using the money they are printing, instead of raising prices, fuelling inflation and putting African nations into a desperate situation, they should at least not get in Russia’s way and let it carry out this productive and intensive work that is needed by African nations and is designed to support the people who need it.
Let’s call it a day. Thank you very much.
Yes, Andrei, all right, go ahead. This will be the closing question.
Andrei Kolesnikov: Andrei Kolesnikov, Kommersant newspaper.
Vladimir Putin: Yes, I know.
Andrei Kolesnikov: Today Ilya Yashin got…
Vladimir Putin: Who is he?
Andrei Kolesnikov: A blogger.
Vladimir Putin: What did he get?
Andrei Kolesnikov: He got 8.5 years under the fake news article. Don’t you think that 8.5 years for fake stories is a brutal sentence?
Vladimir Putin: You know what they say: anyone can speculate.
I received my basic education at Leningrad State University, and I will tell you that I think it is absolutely unacceptable to interfere in the work of the courts. I do not think it is appropriate to question court decisions; there are certain statutory rights to protect citizens in the way that they would like to do it. It may be possible to appeal to a higher court. Mr Yashin's lawyers probably know what they have to do.
Vera Desyatova, Vesti FM and Mayak radio stations: Could I ask one more question?
Vladimir Putin: Go ahead.
Vera Desyatova: Thank you very much.
Recently, there have been some conflicting reports about the army's supplies. You said that the problems are being addressed or have been addressed, but the stream of messages from the fighters on the frontline has not stopped. Our military correspondents and volunteers receive requests. They ask not only for uniforms, but also for medicines, because consumables run out very quickly.
And the question is: who should we trust? The Defence Ministry's reports or the soldiers on the frontline?
Vladimir Putin: You cannot trust anyone. Only I can be trusted. (Laughter.)
We work with the Defence Ministry on a regular basis. I discuss these issues with them almost every day. I have to say that there were problems indeed, and, judging by what you are saying, they probably persist. Although I am assured that they are becoming fewer and are no longer as acute as they were at the beginning of this process, especially related to mobilisation.
But from what you have said, and I think you are right, the problems are far from being completely resolved. But it is just a matter of time. The most acute ones, I think, have already been resolved, but some time is needed, of course, to speed up the relevant production sectors. And the Ministry of Industry is now actively involved in this.
Vladimir Putin: Go ahead, but this will be the last one.
Pavel Zarubin: Early this week you drove along Crimean Bridge. The Crimean Bridge project is something special to you. What were your impressions this time?
Vladimir Putin: Not just to me – but the country in general.
Pavel Zarubin: To you, to the country and to all of us.
Vladimir Putin: I just wanted, first of all, to support the builders and thank them, because they did so much within a short timeframe, and their work is of good quality. Of course, I wanted to see if this was true or not, because it is one thing, what is written on the official reports, that the work has been finished, and quite another when people who are not involved in it, provide you with information. It is important to have this information.
The same goes in this case, I mean the bridge, as I wanted to see it with my own eyes, how everything was done in reality. And indeed, in terms of quality and technology, the project was done at a top technical and technological level.
I said earlier – I do not know if people could hear me because of the strong wind – that two lanes in one direction were in good condition, but the builders still insisted that some centimetres or even millimetres of those lanes be improved, so they are up to standard, 100 percent. They will be doing this part as a preventive measure, so to say, and they obtained approval from me. They will now close two lanes or have already closed them, I do not know, and will be improving them to bring them up to standards, so they are 100 percent perfect.
There is another bridge above, as we actually have three bridges there, the other is the railway bridge; one track is fully functional and there is no tonnage limit on freight traffic. But the other track was largely damaged by fire because the train was standing and a fuel tank car was punctured, the fire caused the damage so it needs to be put in order.
They promise to finish repairing the highway sections in March; first, they planned to finish it later, but I was told they had promised to finish all work by the end of March. As for the [damaged] track on the railway bridge, they promise to finish repairs by mid-summer. True, first, they said this would happen by late autumn, but then they committed to finish it by mid-summer. I believe it will be done sometime next summer. Their work is of good quality. I have no doubt that everything will be done on schedule.
Thank you very much. All the best to you.