John Daniszewski: Thank you for inviting us into your home and for answering questions for the AP’s worldwide audience. I know this is a very busy week for you – you have so many world leaders at the G20 meetings this week, and it’s much appreciated.
If I may, I’d like to begin with the story of Syria. President Obama says he will wait until getting Congress’ approval before moving on Syria. What do you believe should happen there? What do you believe happened there as far as the chemical weapons’ attack goes? What should be done about it?
President of Russia VLADIMIR PUTIN: We have no accurate information as to what has happened. We believe that we should at least wait for the results of the investigation conducted by the UN weapons inspectors. But we have no evidence that these chemical substances – it is not clear yet whether it was a chemical weapon or just some harmful chemical substance – have been used by the Syrian Army.
Moreover, as I have already mentioned, in our opinion, it seems absolutely absurd that regular armed forces, which are currently on the offensive and in some areas have encircled the so-called rebels and are actually finishing them off, that in these circumstances they would start using forbidden chemical weapons while realising quite well that it could serve as a pretext for applying sanctions against them, including the use of force. It’s simply absurd, it’s illogical in the first place.
”If there are data that the chemical weapons have been used, and used specifically by the regular army, this evidence should be submitted to the United Nations Security Council. And it should be convincing.“
Second, we assume that if there are data that the chemical weapons have been used, and used specifically by the regular army, this evidence should be submitted to the United Nations Security Council – to the inspectors and the Security Council. And it should be convincing, not based on some rumours or information obtained by special services through some kind of interception or tapping or things like that. Even in the United States, there are experts who believe that the evidence presented by the Administration does not look convincing, and they do not rule out the possibility of a preplanned provocation by the opposition in an effort to give its sponsors a pretext for military intervention.
John Daniszewski: If I may follow up, the video was so dramatic showing the suffering children and people gasping for air. Did you look at that video and what was your reaction to it?
Vladimir Putin: As for the materials, video materials you have just mentioned, featuring dead children allegedly killed in the chemical attack, they are horrible. The question is only who did what, and who is responsible for this.
The pictures themselves do not answer the questions I have just posed. Some think it is a compilation made by these very rebels, who, as we are well aware, and the US Administration acknowledges it, are linked to Al-Qaeda and who have always been distinguished by extreme brutality.
At that, I would like to draw your attention to the fact that, if you have watched these videos carefully, they feature no parents, women or medical personnel. Who are these people and what has happened there? There is no answer to this question. And these pictures themselves are undoubtedly horrible, but they do not prove anybody's guilt. No doubt it is subject to investigation, and it would be good to know who is responsible for these atrocities.
John Daniszewski: What would Russia’s position be if you became convinced that it was by the government of Syria? Would you agree to a military action?
Vladimir Putin: I do not rule that out, but I would like to draw your attention to one absolutely key aspect. In line with existing international law, only the United Nations Security Council could sanction the use of force against a sovereign state. Any other pretext or method to justify the use of force against an independent sovereign state is inadmissible and can only be interpreted as an aggression.
John Daniszewski: I see your reasoning in this regard but I do wonder when there’s a question mark about who committed these crimes. Whether Russia should distance itself from the Assad government and maybe hold up its shipments of arms, something like that.
”In line with existing international law, only the United Nations Security Council could sanction the use of force against a sovereign state. Any other pretext or method to justify the use of force against an independent sovereign state is inadmissible and can only be interpreted as an aggression.“
Vladimir Putin: Once we have objective and accurate data as to who has committed these crimes, then we will react. Assuming something now and telling things in advance like yes, we will do this or that, would be absolutely incorrect. This is not done in politics. Yet, I assure you that we will take a principled stand. I would like to say that our stand is principled because the use of weapons of mass destruction is a crime.
On the other hand, yet another question arises. If it is ascertained that the weapons of mass destruction are used by the rebels, what will the US do with them? What will these sponsors do with the rebels? Will they cut off arms shipments? Will they launch military operations against them?
John Daniszewski: Well, I think John Kerry said that anyone who stands by when these crimes are done will have to answer to history, and I’m sure you and Russia would be included, and the United States, but are you afraid that you may be seen today as standing by a regime that’s oppressing and committing crimes. Is there a danger that you will be seen as a protective of this government?
Vladimir Putin: We do not defend this government. We are defending absolutely different things. We are defending the norms and principles of international law. We are defending modern world order. We are defending the possibility, the discussion of a possibility to use force only within the existing international order, international rules and international law. That is what we are defending. That is what represents the absolute value. When issues related to the use of force are dealt with outside the framework of the UN and Security Council, then there’s risk that such unlawful decisions might be applied against anybody and on any pretext.
You have just said that Mr Kerry believes that chemical weapons have been used by Assad’s army, but the same point was used by another Secretary of State under President George W. Bush as he was trying to convince the entire international community of Iraq’s possession of chemical weapons and even showed a test tube containing some white powder. All these arguments turned out to be untenable, but they were used to launch a military action, which many in the United States call a mistake today. Did we forget about that? Do we assume that new mistakes can be avoided so easily? I assure you that is not the case. Everyone remembers those facts, bears them in mind and takes them into account when making decisions.
John Daniszewski: So, I understand that you will not accept the evidence that has been offered so far as convincing. What would it take to convince you?
”When issues related to the use of force are dealt with outside the framework of the UN and Security Council, then there’s risk that such unlawful decisions might be applied against anybody and on any pretext.“
Vladimir Putin: It would take a deep and specific investigation containing evidence that would be obvious and prove beyond doubt who did it and what means were used. Then we will be ready to act in the most decisive and serious manner.
Kirill Kleymenov: Mr President, does Russia continue to fulfil the contracts for the supply and maintenance of military equipment to Syria?
Vladimir Putin: Yes, of course. We do it and assume that we cooperate with a legitimate government without violating any rules of international law or any of our commitments. No restrictions have been imposed by the UN on the supplies of weapons to Syria. It is very disappointing indeed that the supplies to the rebels are being carried out in full since the very beginning of this armed conflict, although the international law prohibits the supply of arms to opposition groups.
Kirill Kleymenov: Can I please clarify things a bit with regard to the state-of-the-art S-300 systems?
Vladimir Putin: Please go ahead.
Kirill Kleymenov: There is a lot of talk now as to whether Russia has actually supplied these systems to Syria or not.
Vladimir Putin: S-300s are not the state-of-the-art systems. I think they are in fact somewhat better than Patriot, but we already have S-400 and we are close to completing the S-500 system. These weapons are certainly very efficient. We have a contract for the supply of S-300, and we have already supplied some of its components, but the delivery has not been completed, we have suspended it for now. However, if we see that steps are being taken that violate current international norms, we shall think how we should act in the future, including with regard to supplies of such sensitive weapons to certain parts of the world.
Kirill Kleymenov: Heads of many states have stated that their countries will not get involved in this conflict on no condition. Can you say something of this kind?
Vladimir Putin: I would like to draw your attention to the fact that at the moment Russia has no armed forces’ units deployed abroad, except for two bases located on the territory of the former Soviet Union and our peacekeepers taking part in operations under the UN mandates. It is very good, and we are pleased with that. We are definitely not going to and will not get involved in any conflicts.
As regards the decision of some countries to abstain from participation in a military operation, it was actually a surprise for me, because I used to believe that the Western community is governed by the principle of certain uniformity similar to the decision-making principle used by members of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. However, it turned out that it was not true. In fact, there are people who value their sovereignty, analyse the situation and have the courage to make decisions for the benefit of their own countries and defend their point of view. It is a very good sign, it shows that the multi-polar world order has indeed been strengthened.
”The purpose of the G20 summit is first and foremost to discuss global economic problems. However, bearing in mind that the situation around Syria remains acute and disputed, the leaders of 20 major economies of the world could definitely use the opportunity to spend some time discussing this issue at their meeting in St Petersburg.“
Kirill Kleymenov: Mr President, what place do you think will the Syrian issue take on the agenda of the G20 summit? Our conversation takes place just before this big meeting in St Petersburg.
Vladimir Putin: First of all, I would like to say that the G20 summit agenda has been finalised long ago and that we have discussed this agenda with all our partners. We do not think that we have the right to act against these agreements. The purpose of the G20 summit is first and foremost to discuss economic issues and global economic problems, such as the issues of growth, fighting unemployment and corruption, tax offences and administration. However, bearing in mind that the situation around Syria remains acute and disputed and that we have not yet been able to reach an overall agreement on this pressing issue, the leaders of 20 major economies of the world could definitely use the opportunity to spend some time discussing this issue at their meeting in St Petersburg. We will not insist on it though, but we may propose to go beyond the scope of discussions planned and spend some time to consider the Syrian issue.
I would like to emphasise once again that we will host the summit which has certain rules and an agreed agenda, so we do not think that we have the right to make any amendments to it on a unilateral basis. However, I will definitely invite my colleagues to discuss this issue. Hopefully, they will not refuse.
Kirill Kleymenov: What will you deem as a success of the summit?
Vladimir Putin: The summit will be a success if there is an open and positive discussion aimed at finalising prepared decisions. What kind of decisions? I am talking about a set of measures aimed at boosting growth in the world economy and creating new jobs. These are two main tasks. At the same time, we believe that to fulfil these crucial tasks we need to accomplish several sub-tasks, in particular to promote investment, to make the world economy more transparent and to take action, as I have already mentioned, in the field of tax administration, in banking system, etc.
Incidentally, as regards tax administration and improvement of tax system, it includes measures to prevent tax evasion, partially related to the fight against corruption. I think that we have been able to finalise (not on our own, but in cooperation with our partners and colleagues under the auspices of the OECD) the basic principles for the development of global tax system. No one has been able to do it over the last century. So, it is a very important component of our work.
We have prepared the so-called “St Petersburg Action Plan” for the development of global economy and creation of new jobs. We have reached an agreement on some other issues, such as the fight against corruption and actions to eliminate tax havens. There is a wide range of measures to be taken. Of course, we will discuss the issues of global trade and global finance and will deem the summit to be a success if all documents prepared and agreed in advance are adopted.
Kirill Kleymenov: Did I get you right that, apart from initiating a discussion on these key issues, Russia has something to offer to our guests in terms of solving certain problems you have been talking about?
Vladimir Putin: You see, a country’s presidency runs for one year, and the Group of Twenty summit is the culmination, the finale of all the joint work done during the year at the level of ministers, experts, etc. And of course during these joint discussions we proposed something and something was proposed to us. This was a joint work, a ‘joint kitchen’ where the cooked the ‘pie’ for all G20 leaders who are expected to sign the final documents.
”I would have liked the US President to visit Moscow, to have the opportunity to talk with him and discuss issues that have come up.We understand that the position of Russia on certain issues causes some irritation in the US Administration. I think it would be better not to get irritated but to be patient and work together to find solutions.“
John Daniszewski: President Putin, I would like to get on to the subject of US-Russian relations but before I do, can I ask one more question about Syria. Supposing President Obama gets the support of Congress for some military actions and other countries go along, what would Russia do? Will you fight for Syria or you would be rifting relations with Syria? What’s your reaction going to be?
Vladimir Putin: Are you working for a news agency or for the CIA? You are asking questions that are usually posed by colleagues from other agencies. Russia has certain plans if the situation develops according to the first, second or third scenario. We have our ideas about what we will do and how we will do it if weapons are used or not used. We have our plans, but it is too early to talk about them.
John Daniszewski: Ok. Well, let me ask you about President Obama’s visit. You know, we should be sitting here today discussing the summit with the President that was due to start today. Are you disappointed that the visit was cancelled? Do you see it as being a snub of some kind?
Vladimir Putin: Yes, of course, I would have liked the US President to visit Moscow, to have the opportunity to talk with him and discuss issues that have come up, but I see no particular catastrophe here.
The fact is that contacts between our agencies, between heads of a variety of ministries have not ceased. Very recently, Russia’s Defence Minister and Foreign Minister have visited Washington. Our parliaments contact with each other. That means that the work is going on, it does not stop anyway. We understand that the position of Russia on certain issues causes some irritation in the US Administration. But we cannot help it. I think it would be better not to get irritated but to be patient and work together to find solutions.
I really hope that on the sidelines of the G20 summit I will be able to talk to my American colleague. All our previous meetings have been very constructive. President Obama is a very interesting interlocutor; he is a practical, businesslike person. I am sure that even if the meeting will take place during our work on the sidelines of the G20 summit, it will be useful. In any case, there are a lot of issues we have been dealing with, and we are interested in solving them. They include the disarmament agenda, the development of the world economy, the issues connected with North Korea and Iran. There are many other issues and problems, and solving them is in the best interests of both the United States and Russia. For example, the problem of combating terrorism. Very recently, Americans have experienced a tragedy, I mean the explosions during a sporting event. And our law enforcement agencies and special services have been very actively cooperating with each other. Obviously, this cooperation serves the interests of both the American and the Russian people. This cooperation has not been suspended, and I am sure that it will continue to develop.
John Daniszewski: There have been some speculations about your personal chemistry with President Obama, your relationship. He was quoted as saying that, making some remarks about your body language, saying that you were slouching or looking bored. I was wondering how you took those remarks? Do you feel that was too personal and appropriate or..? What was your reaction?
”The President of the United States is a very good interlocutor, he is easy to talk to, because it is clear what he wants, he has a clear position, he pays attention to the position of his interlocutor, his opponent, he reacts to it. It is interesting for me to work with him.“
Vladimir Putin: I think that everyone in his activities, I mean those who are engaged in politics, economy, security, dissemination of information, everyone is trying to show their best qualities, including those observers you are talking about. Sometimes I read with surprise about the body language, about being bored or behaving in some other way. Who but ourselves can say what we have in our mind and soul? There are certain gestures which, of course, can be interpreted unambiguously, but nobody has ever seen neither me making such gestures at Mr Obama nor Mr Obama making them at me, and I hope this will never happen. Everything else is made up.
I repeat once more, I have already said that: our conversations are always very constructive in nature, they are very substantive and quite frank. In this regard, the President of the United States is a very good interlocutor, he is easy to talk to, because it is clear what he wants, he has a clear position, he pays attention to the position of his interlocutor, his opponent, he reacts to it. It is interesting for me to work with him.
John Daniszewski: Do you think that there is still some hangover of a Cold War mentality in Russia-US relationship, and if so, how do both parties overcome that?
Vladimir Putin: That is partly true. But you know, first of all that concerns, I would say, the middle level of interaction in virtually all environments and spheres. Many people, especially in security agencies, who were working in the USA against the Soviet Union and in the Soviet Union against the USA for decades, remain in that system of coordinates and in that life. But I would really like to think that this does not have any effect at the highest political level. And our current disputes do not result from that – they probably stem from a different understanding of problems facing us, from different preferred means of achieving common, I repeat, common objectives and, of course, from ability or inability to find compromises and respect the opinion of partners.
John Daniszewski: I think when you were running for your third term you said something like the State Department was instigating unrest in Russia trying to weaken a potential rival. Do you really think the US has the secret agenda to undermine your power or undermine Russia? This is in relation to the civil society groups.
Vladimir Putin: I don’t think I understand what arrests you are talking about that could have affected the election campaign in Russia. What kind of arrests could have taken place in Russia to affect the election campaign? I would be glad if you could clarify that. I have not heard about a single arrest that has affected the election campaign in Russia. There have been no such arrests. Our law enforcement agencies might have prosecuted somebody for something, but in such situations, there’s one very good defence method — cry out “Help! It is a political case!” I have not heard about any such cases. What is it exactly that you are talking about?
John Daniszewski: I’m sorry. It may have been a translation error. I didn’t say ‘arrest.’ I said that you were recorded as saying that you thought that the US State Department had an agenda to instigate unrest in Russia to try to weaken its potential rival. Not ‘arrest’ but ‘unrest’.
Vladimir Putin: We sometimes do get thoughts like that, I’ll be frank with you, and I have told my American colleagues the same. I am not sure if it is the right thing to say this to the media, but anyway, it is obvious, so I will say this. I can hardly imagine the Ambassador of the Russian Federation to the US actively working with members of the “Occupy Wall Street” movement. I just cannot imagine such thing because the ambassador’s task is to improve state-to-state relations. It is a delicate job. Given the complexity of issues, there have to be people on both sides who know how to deal with sensitive issues, who seek compromise and achieve agreements. But as we have witnessed, people from the US Embassy acted in this very fashion; it is the same thing as if we worked, I repeat, with “Occupy Wall Street”. We don’t do this, but some employees from the US Embassy in Moscow think this is ok. In my view, it does not fit diplomatic norms. However, we did not go into hysterics but just took a detached view and thought, “well, if that’s the way they do it.” But it did not affect our relations in a negative way. I believe that such practice is wrong and destructive, but that is apparently the style of some of the senior officials at the relevant department. People come and go, but the interests of such big countries as Russia and the United States stay, and there is work to be done.
John Daniszewski: And the intelligence cooperation you mentioned, is that going on at the same level in spite of the various irritancies in relationship right now?
”The success of Russia as a state will essentially depend on how efficiently the people in municipal and regional entities will work. And if those people are inefficient, if they turn out to be those who try to gain power through some crafty schemes, it is certainly only going to damage the country as a whole.“
Vladimir Putin: No, at the level of intelligence services, things, of course, do go wrong too, like when we transfer some information and are told, “It’s all right. We will manage without your help.” And we say, “Ok then, if you don’t need it.” But on the whole, cooperation is developing successfully and is useful. I am convinced that it helps us save lives of our citizens, and this is the most important thing and the key result of our joint work in the area. I would like to once again express hope that we will manage to further extend and develop cooperation between our intelligence services.“the success of Russia as a state will essentially depend on how efficiently the people in municipal and regional entities will work. And if those people are inefficient, if they turn out to be those who try to gain power through some crafty schemes, it is certainly only going to damage the country as a whole.“
Kirill Kleymenov: Mr President, to sum up this discussion concerning Russia-US relations, how would you describe them today? You know, the agenda for President Obama’s visit to Russia was announced today: right after the arrival he is meeting human rights activists and representatives of sexual minorities. And comments have already been made…
Vladimir Putin: Why?
Kirill Kleymenov: Is it a certain sign of where our relations stand today?
Vladimir Putin: Well, this is something the American diplomacy does: they show support for the civil society. For me, there is nothing bad about it. On the contrary, we welcome this. It helps one fully understand what is going on in our society. It would though be very nice if the diplomatic service, the Embassy, security services – that is what they are for – provided a complete, and I mean complete and objective, view of the situation in the Russian society and if they did not look at it one-sidedly. However, it is also important to see how people dealing with human rights issues are organised and how they feel.
Kirill Kleymenov: However, if we do describe these relations, we’ve had a ‘reset’, what is it this time? A freeze? A chill?
Vladimir Putin: No, it is just ongoing work, protection of national interests and principles of solving international issues and bilateral issues. It is a difficult and intense joint work. It’s true that this work is not laid with roses or other flowers. It is complicated and sometimes hard work, and there is nothing special about this. Anyway, President Obama was not elected by the American people to be pleasant to Russia, neither was your humble servant elected by the people of Russia to be pleasant to someone. We work, we argue, we are humans, and sometimes someone can get irritated. But I would like to repeat myself: I believe that global common interests are a good foundation for finding solutions together.
Kirill Kleymenov: September is not only the time when the summit takes place but also the beginning of Russia’s political season. The election is on the way. On September 8, many regions will be electing their leaders and heads of legislative assemblies. As usual, a lot of opinion polls have been conducted prior to the voting day. You know, some of them have uncovered quite unpleasant facts. Quite a lot of people doubt that the election is going to be fair. You cannot help feeling upset by this fact, can you?
Vladimir Putin: People in Russia find it in general difficult to believe anything at all, and that is actually normal, people must always have doubts. The job of the authorities is to aim for a perfect result, though an election can probably never be perfect. However, the duty of the authorities, a matter of honour for every local official, election committees, and law enforcement is to organise everything properly so that people could objectively express their attitude towards candidates and the expression of will could lead to the formation of effective and efficient bodies of power. We are highly interested in this, because the success of Russia as a state will essentially depend on how efficiently the people in municipal and regional entities will work. And if those people are inefficient, if they turn out to be those who try to gain power through some crafty schemes, it is certainly only going to damage the country as a whole.
”We cannot judge whether Snowden committed a crime in the United States or not. But as a sovereign country that does not have an agreement with the United States on mutual extradition of criminals, we cannot do otherwise but to give him the opportunity to live here.“
Kirill Kleymenov: While we are on the subject of objectivity and fairness, I would like to ask you about the court system, or rather some decisions taken within this system. Here is some, however, specific example: a mid-level official receives a suspended sentence for a proved embezzlement of about 400 million rubles, and at the same time a village teacher, who also manages a local club on a part-time basis, is sentenced to seven years of rigorous imprisonment and 3 million rubles penalty for giving a bribe of 400 thousand rubles. If I am not mistaken, he is the father of a large family. Well, you know, I do not even ask about the sense of these rulings. Of course, I understand that you cannot say that the delivered judgment was unfair. But it seems that it is certainly impossible to endure such state of affairs. The system must be changed. It is nonsense.
Vladimir Putin: You know, it might look like almost the same thing, but, according to legislators, these crimes, however, pose different danger to society. For example, the damage to a victim may be the same, let's say a million rubles. Someone had his million rubles stolen and someone was robbed of a million rubles. In this instance, robbery is a more socially dangerous crime committed with greater impudence. Despite the fact that the damage is the same for the victim, the punishment for the robber is still usually higher than for the one who stole, in this case, real and monetary assets in the amount of one million rubles. When a thief steals, he assumes that a victim does not see what he does, while the robber knows in advance that his victim sees and understands everything, but he, nevertheless, impudently commits this crime. The damage is the same, but the punishment may be different, and it is, by the way, justified.
The example that you gave, is certainly not fully the same that I've mentioned.
Kirill Kleymenov: I gave an example with a particular name.
Vladimir Putin: Yes, I am just saying it may seem to be the same, but in fact, according to a lawmaker, these are different crimes.
This case is, of course, outrageous. There are certain sanctions under which the judge personally chooses a specific decision on the advice of his colleagues, of course. There may be different assessments of danger to society. Bribe is a more socially dangerous crime than just a theft. Do you understand? This is an obvious thing. But there can be mistakes. For example, there is a death penalty in the United States. In all countries with death penalty, and we had it in our country too, there are numerous cases where after the execution it turned out that the person executed was not guilty. What can I say about it? We should shut down all courts or what? No, it is necessary to improve the judicial system, improve legislation, and make it more transparent, corresponding to reality and those social relations that are being governed by a certain law.
These are the issues related to improvement of the judicial system. But it does not mean that it is not good at all and it should be destroyed. This is not the case, because the Russian judicial system has its deep roots. The Russian judicial system is an integral part of the international, global judicial system. Our law has very deep historical roots. It is a part of the continental European law, and many principles of our legal system and law enforcement practice are as good as, and in some way even better than the laws and law enforcement practice in other states. Yes, there are problems, and there are a lot of them, but we have to deal with them.
Kirill Kleymenov: Do you think Russian courts can be called independent?
”The Far East faced unprecedented disaster. Old residents cannot recall such floods. When I was flying by helicopter I had an impression that I was flying over a sea. The only thing that brings you back to wicked Earth are the rooftops that stick out of this ‘sea’. You immediately understand what terrible things are happening.“
Vladimir Putin: Russian courts are, of course, independent. When a judge does not want to be independent, there is no independence, and he can go to a governor or consult someone else, but I assure you that it happens almost everywhere. In general, if a judge takes a principled stand, no one can do anything with him. And I do not think that anybody would want to do it in current circumstances, because a judge is entrusted with authority and procedural rights.
John Daniszewski: Since we are talking about legal matters, the Edward Snowden case has aroused a lot of unhappiness and frustration. What do you as a former security man think about the actions of a man like Snowden who leaks secret information he was entrusted with?
Vladimir Putin: If it was really secret information and if such a person caused us some damage, then I would certainly seek his prosecution to the fullest extent permitted by Russian law.
John Daniszewski: In that regard, do you think the US administration is right to seek his return from Russia, to ask you to send him back?
Vladimir Putin: Probably, yes. You see, the problem is completely different. We do not know if the administration is right or not. The thing is not that we protect Snowden. We do not protect him at all. The problem is that we do not have an agreement with the United States on mutual extradition of criminals. We repeatedly suggested that the United States should conclude such an agreement, but we were refused.
There are certain rules and procedures in the world, according to which a criminal can and must be handed over to the other party if there is an appropriate agreement where many issues are set out and certain guarantees are given. However, the United States refused to sign such an agreement with us. And they do not extradite our criminals who did not reveal just some secrets, but whose hands are stained with blood, who killed people, who traded in human beings, and our American colleagues are aware of it. We cannot judge whether Snowden committed a crime in the United States or not. We simply cannot do that. But as a sovereign country that does not have such agreements with the United States, we cannot do otherwise but to give him the opportunity to live here.
I will now tell you something I have never said before. I have dropped some hints but have never said anything like that directly. Mr Snowden first went to Hong Kong and got in touch with our diplomatic representatives. I was informed that there was such a man, agent of special services. I asked them what he wanted and was told that this man was fighting for human rights and free flow of information, against violations of related human rights and law in the United States, as well as against violations of international law. I said: ”So what? If he wants to stay in this country, he is welcome, provided however that he stops any kind of activities that could damage Russian-US relations. This country is not an NGO, it has its own national interests and it does not want to sever Russian-US relations.“ This information was communicated to him. He said: ”No, I am fighting for human rights and I urge you to join me in this fight.“ I answered: ”No, Russia will not join him, let him fight alone.“ And he left, just like this.
Then he took a flight to Latin America. I learned that Mr Snowden was on the way to our country two hours before his plane landed. What happened next? Information was leaked. No offence, but I think that US special services’ agents along with diplomats should have acted with greater professionalism. After they learnt that he was on the way to our country on a transit flight, they put all possible destination countries under pressure, all countries in Latin American and Europe. But they could have allowed him to get to a country where his security could not be guaranteed or intercepted him along the way – they did the same, by the way, with the plane carrying the president of one Latin American country, which, to my opinion, was absolutely unacceptable, done in a rude fashion inappropriate for the United States or your European partners. That was humiliating. The United States could have done the same with respect to Snowden. What stopped them? Instead, they scared everyone; the man quickly decided to stay in Russia’s transit zone and got stuck in our country. What were we to do after that? Hand him over to the United States? In this case we need to sign an agreement. You do not want to? All right, hand our criminals to us instead. You do not want that either? Good. Why would you then request extradition on a unilateral basis? Why so snobbish? Both sides need to take into account each other's interests, work together and look for professional solutions.
”We have no laws against people with non-traditional sexual orientation. Russia has adopted the law banning propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations among minors, but these are completely different things.“
So, we are defending specific norms governing state-to-state relations rather than Mr Snowden. I really hope that in the future, Russia and the United States will reach the relevant arrangements and formalise them as legally binding instruments.
John Daniszewski: Has Edward Snowden offered Russia any information, any confidential information and if he did, would you say what?
Vladimir Putin: No, he didn’t offer us any information. We didn’t receive anything from him and we do not intend to. We are professionals as well, and we believe that everything he could tell us is already known to our US colleagues from special services. They have minimised all possible risks in this regard, they have altered, destroyed, changed everything. He is of no use to us. We did not even want to get involved into all this, you see. He is a man of a completely different type; of course he can be presented as anyone. I understand that US special services are interested in portraying him as a traitor, but he sees things differently – he calls himself a fighter for human rights. He may well be denied this characteristic but that is already the business of those who make judgments. He calls himself like this and behaves just like this. We have no desire to involve him in any kind of cooperation or get any information from him. He has never tried to give us anything, and we have never tried to get anything out of him.
John Daniszewski: So, theoretically, he could live to a ripe old age in Russia?
Vladimir Putin: You know, I sometimes think about him, he is a strange type. He is a young man, just over 30, I cannot even imagine what he thinks. How is he going to live his future life? In fact, it is a hard life that awaits him. I cannot even imagine what he will do afterwards. It is clear, though, that we will not hand him over, he can feel safe here. But what is next? As time passes, the United States will probably understand that it has been dealing with a person who has certain beliefs that can be judged differently, rather than with a traitor or a spy. And some compromises might be found in this case. Do not ask me. It is his life and he has opted for it by himself. He believes this is noble and justified and that such sacrifices are necessary – it is his choice.
Kirill Kleymenov: Mr President, if you allow me, a couple of questions on economy. When meeting with students during your recent visit to Vladivostok you said that the government will cut the planned expenditure. And here a forgotten word ”sequester“ comes to mind. But first of all, is it this year's or next year's budget that we are talking about? And what is the scale of these reductions?
Vladimir Putin: I would like to remind you that sequester means slashing by a certain value of all expenditures without exception and irrespective of priorities. This sometimes happens in world economies and is due to some drastic changes in economic situation and negatives trends in the economy. It is not Russia's case, we are not in the negative, and there is a slight growth as compared to last year. The problem is that we have expected the economy to grow more significantly, and the higher the growth, the greater the budget revenue. And initially we planned to spend more resources on various projects.
”Certainly not during the Olympic Games or other mass sport events, especially the Olympics – one can be absolutely sure that Russia will faithfully follow the principles of Olympism, which do not admit any kind of discrimination, national, gender, or sexual one.“
Today, it has become obvious that the prediction is a bit different, the economy is growing indeed, but slower, so the revenue will be more modest, which means that we will have to spend money more carefully. This is not sequester; however, we need to come up with another forecast for economy's growth and outline the priority expenditures based on this forecast and the current reality. I think we will need to do some cutting. This, however, should be initiated by the Government during its work on the budget.
Kirill Kleymenov: This means that the expenditure items have not been yet defined?
Vladimir Putin: Right you are. Do you know the risk we may run if it is not done? We will follow the steps of those countries that go into huge deficit and thus accumulate sovereign debt. If nothing is done, by 2014 our country will face certain deficit, next year it will be more serious, then even more than that and in the end we will find ourselves in a very difficult situation. If we are responsible, if we want to feel confident, probably a bit more modest during a certain period of our life, but nevertheless be sure that nothing collapses, blasts or falls apart then we should act carefully and professionally. That is what I am talking about.
Kirill Kleymenov: Speaking about being more modest, what are people to expect? Should they start saving for a rainy day, just in case?
Vladimir Putin: No, they should not. The people's incomes have been generally increasing. Probably not that fast and not for all the categories of population, but, despite the fact that the growth rate is below our expectations, the incomes increase. The Government will table a solution for the investment activities or, maybe, social sector, I do not know. Let me stress once again: this is a complex, multifaceted work. When it is done, the Government will put its proposals forward.
Kirill Kleymenov: I would like to ask you to get back to one more recent story – attack on a police officer at one of Moscow markets. And after this story found great public response, measures were taken at once, as they say in our country, tough decisions, lots of violations were detected. You know, it is a strange thing, why does detecting these violations require your personal attention to this matter and your personal involvement? We feel that in the system of public administration there is a great number of, I don’t know, maybe conformists, maybe timeservers, who are not capable of making decisions independently and act quickly and efficiently.
Vladimir Putin: I think about it myself. You know, recently I have watched a video where young guys “punish” drug dealers, catch them in the streets and so on. I myself have thought that, well, nobody knows about it, why these men must…
Kirill Kleymenov: They (drug dealers) were soaked in paint.
Vladimir Putin: …yes, these men must do it. It speaks to the fact that in some places this happens because the sharpness of vision is lost; in other places these things become routine, and still in others this is the result of corruptness of law-enforcement agencies. It is a combination of such reasons. Well, we just have to fight it.
Kirill Kleymenov: But the system is still hand-controlled?
Vladimir Putin: In some respects it is hand-controlled, in others it functions in its normal, usual mode, but when it fails, one has to switch on hand control.
Kirill Kleymenov: Same as the situation in the Far East now, during this trip?
Vladimir Putin: Not exactly. Here I cannot agree with you because the Far East faced unprecedented disaster. Well, old residents cannot recall such floods, it never happened before that water came up so high in Khabarovsk, Komsomolsk-on-Amur, in the Jewish Autonomous Area. You know, when I was flying by helicopter I had an impression that I was flying over a sea. The only thing that brings you back to wicked Earth are the rooftops that stick out of this ‘sea’. You immediately understand what terrible things are happening. The scale of the disaster is immense and that is why I think that President’s intervention is reasonable, it is adequate.
Kirill Kleymenov: The disaster is in fact immense, but exactly after you proposed that officials ate that balanda (gruel) which was given to people at the evacuation points, the situation …
”We should do everything we can to leave terrorists no chance of demonstrating their cruelty or carrying out their murderous activities and policy of hate. We take a wide range of steps aimed at ensuring security of the Winter Games. I strongly believe that our special services and law enforcement agencies will certainly cope with this task.“
Vladimir Putin: As you noticed, I did not stamp my feet there, bang my fists on the table, fire everyone at once. You see, the thing is this. People worked there day and night. Pay attention, thank God, there are no victims. God grant, there will not be.
Kirill Kleymenov: No marauding.
Vladimir Putin: No marauding, no crime, no rise in crime, etc. Generally, they worked day and night, saving people, evacuated residents from districts affected by large-scale flooding. They thought if people are evacuated to these army barracks, thank God, alive and healthy, it is good, we can deal with other things, but this is not good, it is impossible. It is impossible to throw people there, as they wrote, they themselves painted walls and ate balanda. I had to remind them, which is not an awful thing. I apologise to those people who were left in this state. If local officials have not apologised yet, I apologise instead, but we should improve the situation, set things in order. I think that a lot has already been done there, and nobody will have anything like that.
John Daniszewski: Mr President, the Winter Olympics are just six months away, and it looks like everything will be done on time and ready. During the recent World Athletics Championship many eyes were focused on the new Russian law banning gay propaganda. Are you worried that this issue is going to be a flashpoint around the Olympics, the Winter Games?
Vladimir Putin: I hope it will not have any negative implications, especially because we have no laws against people with non-traditional sexual orientation. You have said about it now, you kind of create an illusion among millions of spectators that we do have such laws, but we do not have such laws in Russia. Russia has adopted the law banning propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations among minors, but these are completely different things.
Secondly, we see attempts being made to bring the future Olympic Games into discredit, including by exploiting this subject. Unfortunately, we see these attempts from the part of the United States as well. In this context, here’s what I wanted to say: in our country, first of all, the rights of people with non-traditional orientation are infringed neither in terms of profession, nor in terms of salary level, nor even, if they make achievements in art, work, they are not infringed even in terms of recognition of their results by the state; I mean they are awarded orders and medals. They are absolutely full-fledged and equal in rights citizens of the Russian Federation.
Meanwhile, those who try to teach us, in particular some our colleagues and friends from the United States, would have to know that in the United States there are a lot of problems with people with non-traditional sexual orientation. Do you know, for example, that in some US states non-traditional sexual orientation is still deemed as a criminal offense? In particular, in Oklahoma, as I was told, and in Texas. Well, probably, those who told me that are mistaken, and you should double-check that. But if this is really true, the situation looks very strange indeed as those who cannot serve as an example try to teach us. As for statistics, some independent nongovernmental organisations keep such statistics, they assert, I do not say that this is true, but they assert that in some companies Americans with non-traditional sexual orientation are infringed even in terms of salary level, and they say such statistics exists. I do not know that, it should be checked. But the fact that non-traditional sexual orientation is deemed a criminal offense, you know, such atavism was eliminated long ago even in our country.
We had, I think, Article 120 in the Criminal Code of RSFSR, which punished for non-traditional sexual orientation. Everything was abolished long time ago, we have nothing like that! But some countries do. But it seems to me we should better neither spar with each other, nor describe someone as a savage and others as civilised people, but approach the issues of respect for human rights in an unbiased, professional, partnership-like manner, and in this field we should not elbow but, giving an objective picture, seek solutions together.
John Daniszewski: When the law says it’s a crime to do propaganda, would that include things like waiving a rainbow flag or painting your body in rainbow colours? Is that propaganda for young people? Will visitors and athletes have to have these kinds of concern?
Vladimir Putin: No. In Russia, people who initiated these laws and who adopted this law (I, by the way, was not the initiator) assumed that homosexual marriages do not give children. Russia is going through hard times in terms of demographics. And we are more interested in full-fledged families and more children. It is not the main thing in the whole system of measures aimed at supporting demographic processes. But I think the authors of the law were guided by the need to solve demographic problems and were far from the idea of infringing anyone’s rights. And certainly not during the Olympic Games or other mass sport events, especially the Olympics – one can be absolutely sure that Russia will faithfully follow the principles of Olympism, which do not admit any kind of discrimination, national, gender, or sexual one, mentioned by you.
John Daniszewski: You mentioned earlier, and my colleague did, that President Obama wants to meet with members of the LGBT community. Is it something you would consider doing in connection with these Games or in general?
”When a country hosts such major sporting events, no doubt, the number of persons engaging in physical culture and sports increases as compared to what was before the event. This is the main reason why we go to these expenses.“
Vladimir Putin: I have no objections, if anyone of them would like to meet, but no one has come up with such initiative so far. We have quite a number of groups, a variety of organisations, associations and I usually meet with everyone who asks for a meeting and raises an issue they believe should be discussed. Yet LGBT have not come up with such proposals so far. But why not?
I assure you, I work with such people. Sometimes I award state medals and orders to them for their achievements in certain spheres. We have absolutely normal relations, and there is nothing special about it, I believe. Some people say Pyotr Tchaikovsky was homosexual, but we do like him, although for a different reason. He was a great musician and all of us love the music he composed. So what? One should not blow things out of proportion, nothing terrible is happening in this country.
John Daniszewski: Also around the Games, there is some concern about terrorism. I know some terrorist groups have made threats against the Games. Would you say the visitors, do they have to fear terrorism and what kind of extra measures might you need to take? We saw in Boston that it’s hard to protect sporting events.
Vladimir Putin: Terrorists always threaten someone. As soon as they make us fear, they win. Yet this is not supposed to mean that we should turn a deaf ear to their threats. We should do everything we can to halt these threats and leave terrorists no chance of demonstrating their cruelty or carrying out their murderous activities and policy of hate. Certainly, we take a wide range of steps aimed at ensuring security of the Winter Games. I strongly believe that our special services and law enforcement agencies will certainly cope with this task.
What more could be done to ensure security? In this regard, cooperation with the colleagues from law enforcement agencies is pivotal. I should tell that we have relevant arrangements both with the US — the FBI and other special services — and European partners. All these people feel their responsibility before the athletes, sports fans and spectators. I hope that their joint work will be efficient and ensure complete and absolute security of the Sochi Winter Games.
John Daniszewski: Furthermore about the Olympics, I understand that you are spending something like 50 or 60 billion dollars on Sochi to make the facilities and the roads and so on. Could you just explain why this investment is worth it for the country. I believe it’s more than any other country has ever spent on the Olympics.
”In 2008–2010, the time of economic crisis, the construction of Olympic facilities turned out to be a major anti-crisis measure, as we created several thousands of jobs there and engaged specialists from all the regions of the Russian Federation. This helps improve the quality and the level of our construction organisations and facilitates international cooperation.“
Vladimir Putin: This country may have spent more to prepare for the Games in general, yet it has not invested more than any other country in the Olympic facilities themselves. A total of 214 billion rubles will be spent to prepare for the Olympics. One can easily calculate, how many dollars that would be, with dollar standing at 33 rubles today. Of those, 100 billion are contributed by the government and 114 by private investors. Even more money was invested in infrastructure. That was our conscious choice. We did it in order to make the south of Russia — and Russia is situated rather far towards the north — attractive and comfortable not only during the Olympic Games, but decades after them. We want our citizens to spend their money here rather than go abroad, to Turkey, Europe, Italy and so on for their vacations, and we want this region with good climate to offer them facilities for recreation all year round. We could very well do that without Winter Olympics. Yet you would understand that it would be complicated given that budget resources are constantly limited. However, when there are Olympic Games, we have no choice but to do this, and that, and that.
More specifically, we have built hundreds of kilometres of new roads, dozens of bridges and tunnels. We have built two new roads (one of them was reconstructed, but in fact it was more like rebuilt, and the other one was built from the scratch) between the sea and the mountain cluster. We have built a railway line linking the sea shore and the mountain cluster. Besides, there are two new gas pipelines to ensure energy supply to the region. There is a power plant with 17 substations. We have built a new health care centre and 43 modern hotels to accommodate tens of thousands of people. I hope that all of these would benefit our people for decades. The money spent on that is not wasted, because it was spent to enable people of the Russian Federation to enjoy what has been done for decades. As I have already said, this is done for the people and not only to hold this major competition. Certainly, Olympic Games are interesting and prestigious, but this is not the main thing for us.
Besides, there is something more that I believe is significant. I refer to promoting sports and healthy lifestyle. When a country hosts such major sporting events, no doubt, the number of persons engaging in physical culture and sports increases as compared to what was before the event. This is the main reason why we go to these expenses. How should we spend all these money but for the benefit of our people? We have incomes from our oil and gas and spend most of it this way.
What’s more, you know, in 2008–2010, the time of economic crisis, the construction of Olympic facilities turned out to be a major anti-crisis measure, as we created several thousands of jobs there and engaged specialists from all the regions of the Russian Federation. We built towns there. This helps improve the quality and the level of our construction organisations and facilitates international cooperation (there were issues that were difficult to address). I expect very much that the teams of specialists formed in Sochi will at least partly be involved in subsequent infrastructure projects in different regions of Russia, including, possibly, in the south.
John Daniszewski: Are you willing tonight to predict the gold for the Russian hockey team?
Vladimir Putin: Of course, I can.
John Daniszewski: Ok, we will see.
Vladimir Putin: And what will you see? I have not yet told you what my predictions are.
John Daniszewski: Oh, I thought you were predicting a Russian victory. Or maybe just snow, there’ll be a lot of snow.
Vladimir Putin: Well, I hope there will be a lot of snow; I hope that all those who will come to the Olympic Games, both athletes and coaches, specialists, spectators, journalists, all of them will find themselves in a festive atmosphere, and that we will be able to create this atmosphere, that we will manage to be hospitable hosts and that we shall succeed in holding the Olympics at the highest level.
”I believe that intelligentsia should prevent from any abrupt steps and revolutions of different types and nature. We have just had enough; we have already experienced so much, both in terms of revolutions and wars that we need decades of calm and smooth development.“
Kirill Kleymenov: Mr President, you know, we all depend to some extent on the historical context. Here comes the year of the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of the First World War, the war that led to the collapse of the Russian Empire. Back then, the reason for the collapse was, to a large extent, in the disloyalty of the elites to their own state. Later, similar allusions could be traced in 1991 as well, when the Soviet Union was collapsing. Do you think that today’s Russian elites are loyal to the state?
Vladimir Putin: It's not just the question of elites; in society, there are always some kinds of bacillus that destroy this social or public organism. But they become active when the immunity decreases, when the problems arise, when the mass of people, millions of people, begin to suffer. These millions already believe that things cannot get any worse, let's change something at any price, we shall destroy everything there, ”we shall build our new world, and he who was nothing will become everything.” In fact, it did not happen as one wished it to be.
As for the loyalty or disloyalty of the elites, perhaps, it is possible that such a specific problem exists. I think, it was Pushkin – by the way, no one would suspect him to be a state or a tsar's satrap, on the contrary, he was a freedom lover, a friend of the Decembrists, and there is certainly no one who doubts it, — but even he once said, ”We have a lot of people who oppose not the government, but Russia.“ Unfortunately, our intelligentsia has such a tradition. But this is due to the fact that people always want to emphasise their civility, their level of education; people always want to be guided by the best examples. Well, maybe it's inevitable at some stage of development, but, beyond any doubt, this loss of the state self-identity both during the Russian Empire’s collapse and during the Soviet Union’s breakup was disastrous and destructive. We need to understand it in advance and prevent the state from being in the condition it was at the final stage of the First World War or, for example, in the last years of Soviet Union, when even soap was sold by coupons.
Do you remember an anecdote when one family comes to visit another family and they ask their guests:
- Do you take your tea with sugar?
- Yes, with sugar.
- Well, then, you will have to wash your hands without soap.
You may laugh at it but it seems that people were thinking that things could not get any worse. But we all have to understand that once the revolutionary changes, not evolutionary, but revolutionary changes begin, then the things can become worse and much worse. And I believe that intelligentsia should be the first to understand this. And intelligentsia, realising it, should prevent from any abrupt steps and revolutions of different types and nature. We have just had enough; we have already experienced so much, both in terms of revolutions and wars that we need decades of calm and smooth development.
”Wherever Ukraine goes, anyway we shall meet sometime and somewhere. Because we are one nation. Because we have one Dnieper Kiev baptistery, we certainly have common historical roots and common destiny. We have common religion, common faith, and we have very similar culture, languages, traditions and state of mind.“
Kirill Kleymenov: And as far as calm and smooth development is concerned, if you allow me, a question about Ukraine. Why doesn’t it work to develop calmly and smoothly together? Why cannot we create a common space with people, with whom we have been living side by side for centuries, and in fact we have a very similar state of mind? Indeed you often meet with the Ukrainian leaders. Where does the shoe pinch after all, in your opinion?
Vladimir Putin: You know, no matter what happens, and wherever Ukraine goes, anyway we shall meet sometime and somewhere. Why? Because we are one nation. And however angry the nationalists from both sides can be with my words, and there are nationalists in our country, as well as in Ukraine, this is in fact true. Because we have one Dnieper Kiev baptistery, we certainly have common historical roots and common destiny. We have common religion, common faith, and we have very similar culture, languages, traditions and state of mind, as you have said correctly. Of course, there are some peculiarities and ethnic specifics in everything. By the way, the Ukrainian culture, Ukrainian language, dances and music are wonderful. I for one always admire it.
And you have now mentioned the revolutionary events that took place after the First World War, I draw your attention to it, and we have talked also about the elites. And what is interesting? Both the White movement and the Red one were fighting against each other to death, millions of people died during the civil war, but they never raised the issue of separation of Ukraine. Both the Reds and the Whites proceeded from the integrity of the Russian state.
As far as this part of Ukraine is concerned, it is a territory and we understand and remember that we were born, as I said, from the unified Ukrainian Dnieper baptistery, Russia was born there and we all come from there. It so happened that the part of this territory fell into the hands of different states situated to the west of these territories, and all these years, all these centuries the Ukrainian people experienced many privations, in fact, suffered and were in a humiliating situation. Only after the reunification of both parts of Russia, this part of Ukraine began to develop and, in fact, thrive. During the joint and unified coexistence Ukraine turned into a large European state having received additional territories, population and also due to Russia, due to some of its areas in the west. The Soviet Union made such exchanges and awarded these territories to Ukraine.
Kirill Kleymenov: They are in the south.
Vladimir Putin: Yes, in the south, it does not matter; anyway, it turned into a major state. Huge investments were made in the infrastructure, industrial development and so on. But nowadays it so happened that we live in different states. We should proceed from the reality; we should proceed from the fact that a great number of the Ukrainian people values its samostiynost’, that is independence. One should not only accept it, but respect it. By the way, only with the respect for mutual interests and with just such approaches it is possible to address general issues of common interest.
Regarding integration processes, we should treat Ukraine with respect as well. If Ukraine considers that it is necessary and reasonable for it to conclude, for example, a free-trade zone agreement with the European Union, let it be. But here we see some problems for us and for them. What are they? What do a free-trade zone and associate membership mean? I don’t remember the title of these documents, but I know their essence.
”You cannot blame people that they are searching for decent work and find it somewhere outside of the Russian Federation. Our goal is not to ‘grab and not let go,’ as we say, but to create here, in the Russian Federation, all by ourselves decent living conditions and salaries for highly skilled professionals.“
The bottom line is that Ukraine is taking additional commitments to reduce tariff protection and customs barriers. With respect to a large group of products – and what I’m going to say is clear, you even don’t need to be a specialist – Ukraine is slashing to zero import duties for a period of time, as for some other goods, it does this for all. This is the first point. Secondly, it introduces European standards and technical regulations. I will explain. When import duties are slashed to zero, foreign goods appear on the Ukrainian market, while its own production is functioning and needs to be sold as well. We are worried that they will be squeezed into our market, the market of the Customs Union, Russia, Kazakhstan and Belarus. We did not agree on that, it will create problems to our economy. This is the first point.
And secondly, introducing technical standards at once, what does it mean? It means that Ukrainian enterprises will have to produce everything, for example, a lift, a car, a shirt, watches and other goods in compliance with technical regulations of the European Union. They are good, but very strict; making enterprises work in compliance with these regulations requires multibillion dollar investment, and time. I doubt that this can be done at once. And while this is being done, many enterprises will have already gone bankrupt or, once again, will squeeze goods into our market. We will be forced to close ourselves and that is the problem. Where this could lead?
Our competitive advantages are clear: we have common transport infrastructure, energy, we have deep cooperation, common language. These are great competitive advantages, they will disappear. I can hardly imagine the development of the Ukrainian missile and space industries. They are rather significant, and the missile and aviation sectors. I just can’t imagine them without our market. For example, aircraft engines. All our helicopters have Ukrainian-made engines. What should we do? How will this develop, or it won’t at all?
So the question is not whether we want or don’t want, keep or don’t keep. We have talks with the European Union as well. We are thinking about a free-trade zone, we are considering concluding a new framework agreement. I have known our European partners for a long time and know them very well, they are nice guys, I can have a mug of German beer with them, a shot of schnapps, a glass of delicious French or Italian wine. But when they sit down at the negotiating table, these people become very tough, pragmatic, getting something from them, you know, is a difficult task.
So it seemed to me that if we defined some principles together within the common economic space, then it would be more difficult for the Europeans to talk to us as a Russian-Ukrainian-Kazakh-Belarusian Customs Union as a whole than as separate states, especially directly with just Ukraine. We’ll see what the Ukrainian leadership will choose. No matter what choice is made, we will treat it with respect and continue our work. But the question is just how we will be working, what we will need to do to protect our own interests. We’ll see.
John Daniszewski: A little while ago you were talking about the intelligentsia, the loyal intelligentsia, and I was wondering about two things. What do you think about those Russians who are leaving Russia and going abroad? Is that disloyal of them to be leaving at this time? And then I also wondered about the Moscow Mayor’s race where major opposition figure is a candidate. Is it alright for a major opposition member to become mayor of the capital city?
Vladimir Putin: The first part of the question is about those who are leaving. You know, we are an open country, thank God. The fact that people in our country have the opportunity to choose any place of residence and place of work and do so independently, is a great achievement of modern Russia. You cannot blame people that they are searching for decent work and find it somewhere outside of the Russian Federation. Our goal is not to ”grab and not let go,“ as we say, but to create here, in the Russian Federation, all by ourselves decent living conditions and salaries for highly skilled professionals. We are making some progress on some issues, but are still trying to fix others.
I just came back from the Far East, where in the newly opened University I talked with experts from the new university medical centre. There are specialists there who returned from abroad; there is a doctor who came back from Singapore, if I’m not mistaken, moreover, he was in good standing there, a nice doctor and a good specialist. I asked him, “Why did you come back?” He answered, “Well, it’s about good opportunities, a chance to operate such equipment, and work in fine conditions. A chance to return home, to the native language environment – I did it with great pleasure.”
The same thing happens in some scientific sectors. Labour force, relatively speaking of course, people, especially highly skilled professionals, always seek for the best place to apply their knowledge and skills, this is absolutely normal. We must work to have those who left return and create conditions for those who work here and make them stay. For researchers this is a laboratory, a place of living, housing problems, and salary. This cannot be done all at once, it should develop step-by-step. Again, we are making some progress on some issues and still trying to fix others, but we know the direction in which we need to move.
”People, especially highly skilled professionals, always seek for the best place to apply their knowledge and skills, this is absolutely normal. We must work to have those who left return and create conditions for those who work here and make them stay. For researchers this is a laboratory, a place of living, housing problems, and salary.“
Now, regarding the election of the Moscow mayor. No matter who is elected by Muscovites, the federal government will work with any future mayor of Moscow, this is an indisputable fact. Today, however, according to the opinion polls the acting mayor of Moscow Sergei Sobyanin is in the lead, he has over 60% of votes. I don’t remember exactly the number. All these figures come from different independent sociologists, I think they are objective, I even don’t doubt them. He is very experienced, calm, not too public and to some extent a silent type. I like such people. He speaks less and makes more. It seems to me that people feel this, and it is very important.
If someone from the opposition happens to overtake him, let it be so, he will be working. However, great experience and skills are required to govern a metropolis like Moscow. It is not enough to shout ”Help, stop thief!“ or ”Tomorrow we will put everybody in prison for corruption,“ or ”Tomorrow we will come and give $1,000 to each of you, and then another $5,000.“ It is usually all pre-election agitation. But to work systematically, quietly, without any scandal and fuss is much more difficult. I think Sobyanin knows how to do this. We’ll see the results.
John Daniszewski: Mr Navalny. I believe that thousands of people came out spontaneously after his sentence to prison, and the next day he was released on bail. Is that normal in this country that court responds to protests like that? Were you surprised by that decision?
Vladimir Putin: This is not an attitude towards opposition, this is an attitude towards a person who has committed, according to law-enforcement agencies, violation of the law. Wherever this gentleman appears, he is always watching something, as they say, he always brings trouble with him: it’s either an alcohol issue, or an alcohol plant being stolen, or some forest-related problems, or he claims to have found out about some companies operating abroad, the ones he had not declared. It is an obvious fact.
Speaking of the case that you have mentioned, I am not familiar with the details, but what I do know is that there are guilty verdicts in this case. Moreover, people who had been declared guilty agreed with it and refused to challenge the court's decision. Therefore, this is not the case when an oppositionist is being arrested for criticising the authorities; there are things worth thinking over and discussing by the court and law enforcement agencies in general. However, the ability to get on the popular topic of corruption does not mean the ability to govern a 12-million citizen city and the ability to fight corruption on your own. By the way, if a person raises the topic of corruption, he himself has to be a man of sterling character.
John Daniszewski: Do you think that the opposition parties that exist here in Russia are truly independent or does everyone to some extent need to work with the Kremlin to get along in the political system that exists now?
Vladimir Putin: Everyone works this way; I think the situation is quite the same in the USA or in any other country. However, there are, of course, situations and there are some political groups that prefer not to have any contacts. Nevertheless, this is a road to nowhere, this is a path to confrontation and disorder. However, the number of different parties, represented at elections at different levels, such as municipal or regional, has increased, and this is a fact. The number of such parties has increased many-folds. Are they independent or not? Of course! They are absolutely independent!
This being said, there are political parties that are trying to cooperate with the authorities, trying to make changes in actions of the executive authorities. There are some parties that simply criticise and put forward more rational and effective (as it seems) solutions to the problems that a certain region or the country in general is facing. Nevertheless, the fact that they are independent is obvious. You have just mentioned some of our oppositionists. Are they independent, or do you suspect them of it?
John Daniszewski: Well, I guess what I’m trying to get at is whether there is a sort of “tame” opposition as opposed to “hard” opposition. I guess it’s a matter of degree in some cases. You do have people like Mr Navalny, who I just mentioned and who seems to be very much attacking the system from the outside? Can he work in the political system and succeed?
”Regarding the election of the Moscow mayor. No matter who is elected by Muscovites, the federal government will work with any future mayor of Moscow, this is an indisputable fact. However, great experience and skills are required to govern a metropolis like Moscow.“
Vladimir Putin: This man has harnessed a very popular topic of corruption. As I have already said, one has to be a man of sterling character in order to fight corruption. Unfortunately, this is why I suspect that this is just a way to score some points, not a true desire to solve problems. But anyway, you should have heard what other party presidents, for example, the communists or Fair Russia (which is one of our political parties) supporters, have to say about the authorities, the way they criticise them. Mr Zhirinovsky sometimes criticises the federal or the regional authorities very drastically. There are dozens of parties that are not yet represented in the parliament. I do not want there to be less criticism, I just want it to be formulated in a more literary language. Oh well, so much for a political culture in our country. I think that with time we will see positive changes in this direction too.
John Daniszewski: On political philosophy, I think your political philosophy is still something of a mystery. I just want to ask you are you a liberal, are you a conservative, are you a Marxist, are you a pragmatist. What are your political guideposts?
Vladimir Putin: I guess I can call myself a pragmatist with a conservative perspective. It would be hard for me to explain this, but I always take realities of today, lessons from the distant and recent past into consideration, I try to take these events and this experience and project them into the future, in the medium and long-term perspective. Please, define for yourself whether this is a pragmatic or a conservative approach.
John Daniszewski: Well, I think a lot of people become more conservative as they get older. I mean they start on the left…
Vladimir Putin: I guess you are right. However, I still think that it makes sense, conservatism does not mean stagnation. Conservatism is based on traditional values, but at the same time it has one essential element, which is a goal for development. I think it is of fundamental value. It is common practice for conservatives in all countries to accumulate resources and provisions for economic growth, and then the revolutionaries come and portion it all out one way or another. However, representatives of leftist movements or parties and radicals can also be revolutionaries, they portion everything out and everyone is happy. Then comes the moment of disappointment – as it turns out, everything has been eaten and ruined and it’s time to start accumulating again. People realise this and turn to the conservatives again. The latter start working again, accumulate something, but then they are told that it’s enough and the time has come to portion it out again. So this cycle is an integral part of the politics.
Kirill Kleymenov: I would like to ask you a question about the topic that has been actively discussed in different blogs after your vacation.
Vladimir Putin: Do you mean the pike?
Kirill Kleymenov: First of all, the pike indeed. People were talking about it, trying to figure out its weight with the help of the photograph, to see how long and thick it is, and then people started saying that this story is a fake, because you were wearing the same clothes and watch as you did in the photograph made a few years ago.
Vladimir Putin: First, I always wear the same watch, but the clothes are new. It does look alike, but only because it is a hunting camouflage, but it is new, it was bought for this trip.
Second, I really did catch that pike. For the first time in my life I caught a pike this big. There was a 250–300 gr fish inside the pike. I believe this is why it was so heavy. I was trying to fish it out for three minutes, the process was recorded. This experience changed my attitude towards sport fishing. I was not very enthusiastic about fishing, but this catch made me change my mind. By the way, the pike was caught on a small plunker manufactured in Krasnoyarsk by a small family enterprise called “Tsar-ryba”. It’s a small enterprise. The plunker itself is also called “Tsar-ryba”. I deliberately made a picture and wanted to send it to the manufacturers, but I don't have the time. Hopefully, I will do that some day.
Kirill Kleymenov: That would be one good advertisement!
Vladimir Putin: So be it, they deserve this advertisement, their product is working. I but do not think it’s so surprising that such a bad fisherman as myself caught such a pike, because there are almost no people there. Actually, there are no people there. The nearest settlement is 300 kilometres away from this lake, it is a mountain lake located at an altitude of 1,700 meters. There was no one there to fish it out. So it wasn’t that hard really. Apparently, it was not actually heroism after all. However, I will probably start fishing professionally after that day. I really enjoyed it.
Kirill Kleymenov: Thank you.
Vladimir Putin: Thank you very much.