President of Russia Vladimir Putin: It seems to me that you know everything about the coming Olympics and I wonder if there’s anything else I can tell you. Or, maybe, you believe that you know everything and I would hardly be able to make you change your mind. But a chance still exists and I am taking this opportunity to talk to you with great pleasure.
Ed Hula (translated from Russian): I have been traveling to this city for eight years and I can see some serious changes here – a whole new cluster has been built in the mountains with sports arenas, stadiums, various tracks and a biathlon range. A great deal of money has been put into Sochi to host the Olympic Games – the estimates put the figure at $50 billion. But we did not have a chance to know the exact figure yet and to understand how much the Olympics cost. Well, how much are they? And are they worth that money? What legacy will the Olympics leave?
Vladimir Putin: The overall cost of the Olympics has been announced; it is 214 billion rubles. You can calculate the dollar amount by dividing this figure by 33, which is the current exchange rate.
But that is not what I want to tell you here. I want to begin with what we had in plans even before the Olympics, back in 2006/07 when we adopted the Sochi Development Master Plan. Looking at the map of the Russian Federation, one can see a country covering mostly northern areas; today more than 70 percent of our territory is or can be referred to as northern, if not the Far North. We have a rather small warm Black sea strip in the South and – to tell the truth – just a few regions with a hospitable warm climate.
”The first and the most important task we focused on was to develop the south of the country, and primarily its infrastructure. And – to my mind – we have made a real progress here since a completely new transport, energy and environment infrastructure has been set up.“
And so far we have had no modern resorts that Russian people could enjoy throughout that huge area. Today we are at the top of the list of those traveling on holiday abroad. As far as I know, Russians are the first among tourists going to Turkey; last year three million Russians visited that country, although its climate zone is almost the same as that of the Black sea region. Therefore, we have had an important task to develop the infrastructure in this region of the Russian Federation. And again, to this end we have adopted a special program. But as usual – this is something that is true both for Russia and any other country in the world – there is not enough money to deal with what seems to be of the first importance. And when it comes to the resort development activity, which is never seen as a priority, there is never enough money. Therefore, in fact our goal was to address several tasks at the same time.
The first and the most important one was to develop the south of the country, and primarily its infrastructure. And – to my mind – we have made a real progress here since a completely new transport, energy and environment infrastructure has been set up. In terms of current emissions into the atmosphere and those of 2007, today, when the project is nearly over, the air pollution is half its 2007 level. We have achieved that result by using a more eco-friendly fuel in electric power sector, building two new gas pipelines and eight or nine electrical substations, cleaning up two constantly fuming dumps in the Greater Sochi area, and building a new transport infrastructure. All those measures helped ease the environmental burden. Let’s admit that it is crucial for a resort.
The second task we focused on was to re-establish training bases for high-ranking athletes. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia lost nearly all its training facilities in regions of middle-altitude mountains. All of them are not ours anymore; they are either Georgian or Armenian, or Kazakhstani, I mean the Medeu skating rink.
It is shameful and embarrassing but our ice skating professionals had to hold the Russian national championship in Berlin due to the lack of adequate skating rinks. Then, we also lost all facilities related to ski jumping. Today we have built a few centres not only in Sochi, but the two new Sochi ski jumps are absolutely unique from a technical point of view; for purposes of Olympic training we have also built the most sophisticated ski jumps in some other regions.
Finally, the third task was to create a new mountain cluster in order to transform this part of the Russian Federation into a resort, which can be used in any season, in winter or in summer. I think that we have accomplished this task as well. Therefore, if we consider only the preparations for the Olympics, they cost 214 billion, as just 15 sport facilities have been built, while most of the money was spent on infrastructure. If we take into account the expenses associated with the development of relevant infrastructure, the sum may be larger, but those expenses are not directly related to the Olympic Games.
Sergey Brilev: Mr President, you have just called the ski jump a unique facility. But it is unique not only from the sports and technical point of view. The foreigners are very unlikely to know anything about your question Where is Mr Bilalov?, your visit to the jumping facility and demonstration of how things must function. Mr Bilalov was severely punished in front of the entire nation. Did it frighten the others so as to push them to fulfil their promises? And in general how do you feel about it?
Vladimir Putin: First, let me finish the answer to Ed's question. Public investments make up 100 out of 214 billion; the rest comes from private companies. This money is primarily invested in hotel infrastructure. By the way, we have built more than 40,000 (between 41,000–43,000, as far as I know) brand new hotel rooms, which is a crucial component of resort development. That is where private investments of our companies have been allocated.
As for the missed deadlines, well, we both understand that over the past several years the Sochi Olympic project has been the largest construction site in the world. Without exaggeration, the biggest building site on the planet. And it is only natural that some problems would come up given the scale of the project and, frankly, lack of experience in implementing such large-scale construction projects in our country, in modern Russia. Certainly, we had to engage in unpleasant discussions about prices, deadlines and quality of work. It could not be otherwise. Absolutely impossible. Constant praise would have brought us nowhere. My job is not only to award medals, you know, which certainly is part of my functions. First and foremost, though, my job is about ensuring success of the work in various spheres. It is a kind of day-to-day spadework. Where in the world have you seen builders who meet all deadlines and provide high-quality work at low prices? Just give me at least one country. Not a single country in the entire world. We see the attempts to overvalue construction prices everywhere – in Europe, North America, Asia. Same story everywhere.
However, this struggle between the customer (in this case, it is either the state or the private sector that has built hotels here) and the executors, the contractors, is quite common. Contractors are always after large profits; customers always want a high-quality end product in due time and as cheap as possible. This struggle never ends, but this is natural. Obviously, there is a line beyond which the struggle gets criminalised, but this is the job of the law enforcement agencies to keep an eye on that, and they have shown tough and good work here. We have tried to prevent anyone from crossing that line. All in all, I think we have managed it.
As for this specific case, yes, Russia’s Sberbank has taken up this project and accomplished it providing excellent quality and modern solutions. There are no other jumping facilities like that in the world.
George Stephanopoulos: It was said that the issue of corruption is really serious: $18 billion were plundered, a Swiss said, is it true or not?
Vladimir Putin: First, the Swiss did not say that. Of course, we are not indifferent to what our partners around the world, especially in the Olympic movement, say. I have seen the transcript of his meeting with some journalists, your colleagues tried to drag him to this topic, and I can understand journalists, it is their job – always drag out “hot” topics. But the Swiss specialist, the President, as I understand, of the International Ski Federation, he did not say that, as it seemed to me based on the report. This is the first point.
Second, if anyone has concrete data on instances of corruption in implementing the Sochi Olympics Project, we ask to furnish us with objective data. We will be glad and grateful and we will use this information to put things right in this sphere.
What are instances of corruption? In this case they mean theft of public funds with the help of state officials in whose hands these funds fall. If anyone has such information, give it to us, please. I repeat once again, we will be grateful. But so far there was nothing but talks. We understand and we know, and we are even used to it; there are always some forces that are always against everything, even the Olympics project. I do not know why, but, probably, it is their job, probably that’s the way they feel, maybe somebody offended them in their life. But if there is objective data, give it to us, please, as soon as possible. So far we do not have it; nobody provides it. Our law enforcement agencies work on this issue. There were cases, I have already said about it, some years ago local officials tried to trade land designated for Olympics venues. An investigation was conducted; people were convicted by the Russian court and are serving their sentences. We have not seen any big, large-scale instances of corruption in connection with the Sochi Olympics Project implementation. There are things I have already mentioned, attempts by executors, contractors to drive up the price. But this, I repeat, happens in any country of the world, and our task is to lower the prices and achieve good quality of project implementation and compliance with construction deadlines. You understand, there’s always a conflict in such case, we always talk about it openly, and in this regard we always fuel rumours about corruption instances a little bit. What should we do? Either always keep silence about it, or not be afraid of such reaction and work openly? We chose the second way. If we see problems, we talk about it openly.
”As far as the Sochi Olympics’ guests are concerned a unique decision was made. It is unique because we decided that the guests, the tourists coming to the Olympics can arrive to the Sochi Olympic Games without visas, just on the basis of their accreditation. And they can get this accreditation at special offices open in all our diplomatic missions.“
Well, that is my comment on this issue. I do not see serious corruption instances for the moment, but there is a problem with overestimation of construction volumes. You know, I can give another comment on that. What are the reasons for construction overestimation? During tenders and competitions, bidders for this or that project often low the cost of the project or their cost proposals on purpose in order to win the project. As soon as they win, they understand that they cannot manage with those prices and start to increase them. It too happens almost everywhere. Our case is not unique. Here we can probably discuss the way tenders are organised. But this price increase, it is sometimes due to contractor’s deliberate acts, and sometimes it is due to the fact that the professional valuation of necessary investments, especially in mountain conditions, for a mountain cluster, are not efficient enough.
The Caucasus Mountains are young mountains, and there are a lot of seismic related problems, a lot of problems with landslides, etc. Sometimes, assessments of all these things have not been done in a timely and professional manner at the initial stage of project price evaluation. These are all work related things, but this is not corruption.
Andrew Marr: Mr President, now the British choose between France and Switzerland when they want to go skiing, and you want to persuade them to go to Russia to ski. If they go, how difficult it would be to get a Russian visa? Unilaterally, can you without any agreement with the European Union, without negotiations with the EU, undertake steps to relax visa regime, simplify visa procedures and entry?
Vladimir Putin: As far as the Sochi Olympics’ guests are concerned a unique decision was made. It is unique because we decided that the guests, the tourists coming to the Olympics can arrive to the Sochi Olympic Games without visas, just on the basis of their accreditation. And they can get this accreditation at special offices open in all our diplomatic missions. But they don't need any entry visa. That’s the first point.
Second, we consider that in recent years we have built a unique site from the point of view of its ski track mileage (150 kilometres) and as I mentioned more than 40,000 hotel rooms. May be it is necessary to improve the quality of servicing, but in general the material base created here is good enough for a major, world-class tourist centre. I think that it will be very interesting to see – even for those who will not be able to come to the Olympics – what is Sochi where the Olympic Games took place. People all over the world always show such interest in Olympic Games’ places and we will be glad to see the winter sports fans coming to Sochi to look what Russia did here and how it implemented this project. And if people like it, this place may become a favourite resort for our friends from the United States or Europe, or the Asian countries, including China – why not? We should not forget that people who love winter sports like to see different places, and they will be happy to go to Canada, the United States, Switzerland, Italy, France and to Sochi, I hope.
Now, let me say a few words about visas. We offer exclusions for some tourist routes. For example, tourists arriving by water transport may enter St Petersburg without visa for a certain period of time. We offer other exclusions as well. But we are talking about exclusions anyway while the general regime is as follows: in the world, all visa and visa-free travel issues are regulated on the basis of reciprocity. And we would very much like to finally reach an agreement on such visa-free travel with our colleagues from the European Union. I have spoken on many occasions that the European Union has introduced visa-free travel with a number of Latin American countries where the criminal situation is not better – and in many cases is worse – than in the Russian Federation. And where is Latin America, and where is Europe? If we look at Russia and Europe, they are very close, as I see it. True?
That is why it seems to me that we should agree on visa-free travel in general. And as far as some exclusions are concerned, we may talk about some separate events.
Irada ZEYNALOVA: Mr President, at the beginning of December you spent three days in Sochi inspecting Olympic facilities. And you mentioned then that we should speak now not about the work done, but about the work that should be done, about the unfinished work, you stressed that it needed polish. Can we say that now everything is ready, what do they report to you? What were the most difficult parts of the work? What else needs to be completed, if there is anything left?
Vladimir Putin: Everything is already done and now we have to clean up. We have to get hotels functioning well, we have to remove the construction equipment, we have to clear construction waste that is to get ready to receive guests just like any hosts do before their guests arrive. Be ready to welcome guests in such a way when everything looks nice and complies with the spirit of the event, and all facilities are ready. As you know, many test events have already been held here, including World Cup stages and other major international competitions. The athletes, our guests and specialists in general were satisfied and stressed the high degree of readiness already a year ago, and now all the facilities are completed.
Shui Junyi: Mr President, before I ask my question there is one thing I would like to mention. This is my fifth interview with you in 14 years — sometimes it was face-to-face, sometimes together with my colleagues. You are very popular in China. Before my coming here I said to our Internet users in the Central TV Office that I'm going to Russia to interview you. As soon as I posted this message, it got two million “likes” and many questions.
”In recent years we have built a unique site from the point of view of its ski track mileage (150 kilometres) and more than 40,000 hotel rooms. In general the material base created here is good enough for a major, world-class tourist centre.“
You have just mentioned that you invite tourists from different countries to come to Sochi. And what do you think about the Chinese investors coming after the Olympics to build hotels here? What chances does this situation provide for Chinese investors?
Vladimir Putin: First of all, I would like to convey my best wishes to all my friends in China both through social networks and via other media. I know that I have many friends in China. It is not surprising, because we have special relations with China. And I have special feelings for China. China is a great country with a great culture, with very interesting, hard-working and talented people.
Give them a big thanks for such an attitude. This is a mutual feeling.
As far as investors are concerned, we will welcome investors from all countries, including China. China has a great investment potential. China is a country with the largest gold reserves. There are very good investment tools in China, including a whole network of major funds. The Russian Direct Investment Fund, the RDIF, works with some of them, with major Chinese investment funds. They already have joint projects.
Generally, it is quite difficult for foreign investors to find the most effective ways of investing their capital, which are efficient and well-protected at the same time. They often do it together with the relevant national bodies. Such a body, I have just named it, the RDIF, works with our Chinese partners, it can work in any region of the Russian Federation and in any area.
If our Chinese partners are interested in the tourism cluster in the south of Russia or, say, the agriculture cluster, we have it here, in Krasnodar and Stavropol territories, these are neighbouring territories, Rostov Region – this is our breadbasket, as we call it, these are the regions where agricultural production is particularly well developed, the climate here is very good. But in some regions, for example, in Rostov Region, which borders with Krasnodar Territory, engineering is also well-developed, the aviation cluster is developing, and in many of these areas we have promising, very interesting joint plans with our Chinese friends. That is why we invite them not only to Sochi and Krasnodar Territory, but also to whole of Russia’s south.
Irada Zeynalova: Mr President, at all times and in all countries the Olympic Games have attracted extremists wishing to make a global name for themselves. Unfortunately, in the context of the recent terrorist attacks and threats in the south of Russia, we have to discuss that in relation to Sochi. Several agencies are working to ensure security during the Games, and European and American experts have offered their assistance. What reports do you receive regarding the scope of threats, regarding what we are already confronting and what we will have to confront?
Vladimir Putin: You are right, extremists are always trying to make a name for themselves, especially in the run-up to some major events, and not only sports events, but also political ones. You know very well what security measures were taken during the meetings of the Heads of State within the framework of the G20, the G8 or other forums, for example, APEC in the Asia-Pacific region. The same applies to major sports events. I have already spoken about this, and I want to repeat that extremists are usually narrow-minded people who do not realise that even if they, as they think, set themselves noble goals, by committing terrorist acts they are drifting further and further away from achieving those seemingly noble goals to the extent that these goals stop being relevant. The whole world considers them criminals, criminals in the worst sense of this word, bloodthirsty people who not only disregard human rights and freedoms, but also set a person's life at naught. No matter what motives they have for committing such acts, there will never be excuses for them, and in the eyes of all sensible people in the world they will always remain criminals. Therefore, they immediately cast a criminal shadow on the goals they set for themselves. But the world is what it is; we remember well the tragic events during the Olympic Games in Munich, when the Israeli sports delegation was killed almost in its entirety. And of course, since that time all countries in the world without exception take special, extraordinary security measures.
We do everything with understanding, with a clear understanding of the operational situation developing around Sochi and in the region as a whole; we have a perfect understanding of what it is, what is that threat, how to stop it, how to combat it. I hope that our law enforcement agencies will deal with it with honour and dignity, just as it was during other major sports and political events.
Irada Zeynalova: I worked as a correspondent at several Olympic Games, including the London ones, the last Olympic Games. And when we got there, we found out that Patriot missile launchers had been deployed on the roofs of houses in the North and East London. At first it certainly came as a shock like military ships anchored in the bay near Greenwich. But the British government explained: ”The threat is massive, we will resist it, and it is a necessity.“ So that is exactly what happened – Patriot missile launchers were in place. Are we going to see something like that in Sochi?
Vladimir Putin: I hope you will not see anything, but we will do our best. As for London, we remember that one of the G8 summits there saw a number of terrorist attacks, including in the tube. I remember the painful reaction of the then British Prime Minister Tony Blair to the attacks, and I remember how we all provided him moral and, if necessary, special support. Actually, I would like to again thank all our partners from North America, the United States, Europe, and Asia who actively cooperate with their Russian law enforcement and special services’ counterparts. Such joint work is on-going.
Shui Junyi: Mr President, Volgograd saw two terrorist attacks a month before the opening of the Sochi Olympics, and many people have some concerns about the upcoming event. We are convinced that Russia will be able to take even more serious security measures. But might they affect athletes and other participants?
Vladimir Putin: I would not want these acts of terrorism – crimes of the kind aimed at undermining international cooperation in the political, as well as, so to say, in the humanitarian area, including sports – to affect the upcoming events. For if we allow ourselves to show weakness, to show our fear, it means we will help the terrorists achieve their goals. I think that international community, working in all areas – humanitarian, political, and economic – must join forces in the fight against the inhumanity of terrorist attacks and killing entirely innocent people. Our task as organisers is to ensure the security of athletes and guests at this major sports event, and we will do our best.
Ed Hula: Mr President, how do you plan to ensure an adequate level of security at the Olympics, and yet make it a happy and joyous occasion?
”International community must join forces in the fight against the inhumanity of terrorist attacks and killing entirely innocent people. Our task as organisers is to ensure the security of athletes and guests at this major sports event, and we will do our best.“
Vladimir Putin: Answering your colleagues’ question I have already said that we will try to make certain that the security measures are not intrusive or too conspicuous, so they are not too noticeable for the athletes, the Olympics’ guests or journalists. But at the same time, we will do our utmost to ensure that they are effective.
Security is to be ensured by some 40,000 law enforcement and special services officers. Of course, we will draw on the experience acquired during similar events held in other regions of the world and in other countries. It means that we will protect our air and sea space, as well as the mountain cluster. I hope things will be organised in such a way that they don’t catch the eye and, as I have already said, will not, so to say, depress the participants in the Olympic Games.
I would also like to note that a special regime for movement of people and goods was introduced in the Greater Sochi area starting from January 7, 2014. We have set up round-the-clock headquarters to ensure security – I want to emphasise that it is round-the-clock – which coordinates the work of our law enforcement agencies and special bodies and maintains contacts with its counterparts abroad.
George Stephanopoulos: Mr President, let me change the subject. All Americans going to Sochi are concerned and some have even developed their own plans for evacuation in case something happens. Are you concerned that if something similar happens in other parts of Russia, these plans might be implemented?
Vladimir Putin: Russia is a big country, and, like in any other country, different things happen. We are working to ensure security in Sochi, using many forces and means, but mostly those that are not engaged in ensuring security in other regions of the Russian Federation. We have enough such means provided by the Federal Security Service, the Interior Ministry, and army units, which will be engaged in ensuring security too, as I have already said, in the sea area and airspace. If anybody feels it is necessary for them to develop separate plans for guaranteeing their own security, it is okay as well, but, of course, it needs to be done keeping in touch with the Olympic Games organisers and our special services. As I have already said, we have permanent round-the-clock headquarters maintaining contact with colleagues from the foreign countries’ corresponding services and army units. By the way, these colleagues are represented in the headquarters, there is, I repeat, a direct professional interaction. If necessary, all these mechanisms can be used. I hope that it won’t come to this. Also, I have already mentioned that we have worked effectively during, say, important political events, including both G20 and G8 summits, and hosting of major international competitions, like, for example, the recent World Championships in Athletics in Moscow. Understanding the full scope of problems in terms of security, we still have great experience in hosting such events, and we will use it.
Andrew Marr: A lot of British politicians and celebrities, including Elton John, express concerns over the attitude towards homosexuals in Russia. I would like to ask you, do you think there are fundamental differences between the attitude towards homosexuals in the West and in Russia? Do you think homosexuals are born or made? And what does the concept of propaganda imply, is it philosophical?
Vladimir Putin: You know, I am not in the position to answer the part of your question concerning homosexuals being born or made. This is beyond my professional interest, and I just can’t give you a qualified answer. And as I can’t give you a qualified answer, I would just prefer to leave it at that.
As for the attitude towards people of non-traditional sexual orientation, yes, I can give you quite a detailed reply. I would like to draw your attention to the fact, that in Russia, as opposed to one third of the world’s countries, there is no criminal liability for homosexuality. 70 countries of the world have criminal liability for homosexuality, and seven countries out of these 70 enforce death penalty for homosexuality. And what does that mean? Does it mean that we should cancel all major sport events in those countries? I guess not.
The Soviet Union had criminal liability for homosexuality; today’s Russia doesn’t have such criminal liability. In our country, all people are absolutely equal regardless of their religion, sex, ethnicity, or sexual orientation. Everybody is equal. We have just recently passed a law prohibiting propaganda, and not of homosexuality, but of homosexuality and child abuse, child sexual abuse. But this has nothing to do with persecuting individuals for their sexual orientation. And there is a world of difference between these things. So there is no danger for people of such non-traditional sexual orientation who are planning to come to the Games as guests or participants.
Andrew Marr: And as for the Orthodox Church, it calls for returning criminal liability for homosexuality. What is your opinion about that?
Vladimir Putin: According to the law, the church is separated from the state and has the right to have its own point of view. I would also like to draw your attention to the fact that almost all traditional world religions are in full solidarity on this topic. And is the position of the Holy See different from that of the Russian Orthodox Church? And does Islam treat people of non-traditional sexual orientation in a different manner? It seems so, but this other position consists in a much tougher approach. Those 70 countries I have mentioned mostly belong to the Islamic world, and the ones enforcing death penalty all have Islam as state religion. Thus, there is nothing strange in the Russian Orthodox Church’s opinion as compared to that of other traditional world religions, there is nothing strange in that, but I repeat once again: the opinion of the church is one thing, and the opinion of the state is another thing. The church is separated from the state.
Sergey Brilev: Perhaps, to add to the issue. You know, once I was lucky to meet the smartest and the most beautiful girl, and I have been married to her for a long time, well, generally speaking, my sexual orientation detracts me a bit from being free to discuss this issue, but the thing is as follows.
All Russians of non-traditional sexual orientation, who I know, ok — not all, but the vast majority are people with excellent careers, who have never in their life-time faced any job restrictions and so on, though against the background of our law to ban gay propaganda among minors, our country is getting the reputation of being just about the most anti-gay country on the planet, however, to a certain degree quite the opposite.
Vladimir Putin: It is not getting the reputation; there are attempts to create it.
Sergey Brilev: Yes, I agree. I wonder whether we should review this law causing all the fuss that has, actually, little to do with its name or content, and to adjust it a bit? Probably with a view to offering not less sex education needed for children, but less sex, in general, available to minors, no matter if it is homosexual or heterosexual, what would be demanded by many people who are quite heterosexual. Or, probably, to really examine this notion. Frankly speaking, I have never come across gay propaganda among minors. Basically, I agree with the idea, but I do not understand what it is in practice.
Vladimir Putin: Why so? Take the time to read the law thoroughly, and pay your attention to its name. The law’s name is ”Ban on propaganda of paedophilia and homosexuality“. The law banning paedophilia, propaganda of paedophilia and homosexuality. There are countries, including European, where public discussions – I have just talked about this at the meeting with volunteers – for instance, on the possibility to legalise paedophilia currently take place. Public discussions in parliaments. They may do whatever they want, but peoples of the Russian Federation, the Russian people have their own cultural code, own tradition. It's not our business and we do not poke our nose into their affairs, and we ask for the same respect for our traditions and for our culture. My personal view is that the society should look after its children at least to be able to reproduce and not only thanks to migrants, but on its own base. We achieved what we had not experienced for a long time. In 2002, 2003, 2004 it seemed that we would never redress that absolutely terrible situation we had with the demographic crisis. It appeared that it was a demographic pit that would prove to have no bottom and we would continue investing in it endlessly.
And at that time we developed and adopted a program aimed to support demography, to increase birth rates in the Russian Federation. Frankly speaking, I was much worried myself: we allocated big resources, and many experts used to tell me: ”Don't do this, there is such a trend, which is experienced by many European countries. And we won't avoid it either.“ This year in Russia, the number of newborns has exceeded the number of deceased for the first time. We achieved a specific positive result. If anybody would like to focus on, so to say, developing the cemetery, they are welcome. But we have different goals: we want the Russian people and other peoples of the Russian Federation to develop and to have historical prospects. And we should remove every obstacle in our way. But we should do this in a modern and humane manner without offending anybody and without introducing second-class citizens.
It seems to me that the law we adopted does not hurt anybody. Moreover, people of non-traditional sexual orientation can not feel like inferior people here, because there is no professional, career or social discrimination against them, by the way. And when they achieve great results, such as, for instance Elton John achieves, who is an extraordinary person, a distinguished musician, and millions of our people sincerely love him with no regard to his sexual orientation, and his sexual orientation does not affect attitude to him, especially as to a distinguished musician. I think that this quite democratic approach to people of non-traditional sexual orientation alongside with measures aimed to protect children and future demographic development is optimum.
Shui Junyi: I also would like to proceed on discussing this issue of homosexuality.
Irada Zeynalova: And I would like to ask why we are discussing this issue in the context of Sochi when we gathered to speak about Sochi?
Shui Junyi: But I would like to continue. There were talks that the snow of 2014 in Sochi would be lonely because many Western countries spoke about homosexuality, about oppressions of homosexuals in Russia, and those messages reached China. By the way, in 1980 there were also attempts to boycott the Soviet Olympic Games in Moscow for different reasons, and there was the same case at the Beijing Olympic Games. Why do such voices appear when a country is developing, for instance, China is developing, Russia is developing? What do you think, may be these are manifestations of the ”cold war“?
Vladimir Putin: I don't think that these are manifestations of the ”cold war“, but it is a demonstration of competition. When such a powerful country, potentially powerful country as China starts showing rapid growth, it becomes a real competitor in the global politics and at the global markets, and, of course, tools to restrain such growth are switched on. Probably, you know that Napoleon once said that China was sleeping, and let it sleep as long as possible. This is a traditional attitude of the Western Civilization towards the East, towards China, in particular. But China has awakened. And I think that the right option to develop relations with such a big, potentially powerful and great country as China is to search for shared interests, but not to restrain. I believe, that some old approaches towards Russia still exist from the perspective that there is a need to restrain something.
And as for the issue that we cannot leave, I would like to say the following. I told that homosexuality is a criminal offence in 70 countries, including the USA. It is still a criminal offence in some states of the United States, for instance in Texas, and I think in three more states. So what, shouldn’t we hold any international competitions there? Why does nobody speak about this and why do they speak about us, though we do not have criminal liability for this. What is this, if not an attempt to restrain? This is a remnant of the previous, old way of thinking and this is bad.
It is even worse when it comes to major sports events, especially Olympic Games. I know what many top US politicians that I respect and that are respected across the world think. They believe that the boycott of the Moscow Olympics, for all the serious grounds it had — I mean the introduction of Soviet troops in Afghanistan — was a great mistake even in those circumstances. Indeed, any major international competition, and Olympic Games first and foremost, are intended to depoliticise the most pressing international issues and open up new ways to build bridges. It is unwise to miss such opportunities, and it is far more unwise to burn such bridges.
Ed Hula: President Obama has appointed Billie Jean King and other members of the delegation to represent the United States in Sochi. There are homosexual athletes. Do you believe it to be a political component of the Olympic Games? What political background does it create for the Olympics, if there are homosexuals there? Will you meet Billie Jean King as the head of the US Delegation in Sochi?
Vladimir Putin: People have different sexual orientation. We would welcome all athletes and all guests at the Olympics. At some point President Obama asked me to help make arrangements for a large US delegation to come. His request was related to a limited membership of national teams, including both athletes and members of various administrative bodies. The International Olympic Committee has its rules, but we did the best we could. We found solutions to that, bearing in mind that the US has traditionally had a larger delegation at the Olympic Games than other countries, they have a large team and many representatives. We complied with their request. So, I certainly will be glad to see the representatives of any countries, including the United States, there can be no doubts as to that. If they would like to meet me and discuss anything, they are welcome, I see no problems here.
George Stephanopoulos: President Obama said he was offended by the law on gay propaganda. He has also recently said that if there are no gay sportsmen and sportswomen in Russia, its team will be weaker. However, if they start protesting, meaning gays and lesbians, will they be prosecuted under this anti-propaganda law if they decide to hold protest actions?
”Such major events as world championships, European championships and Olympic Games encourage people, especially young people, to take up sports, promotes mass sport participation, which certainly has a positive impact on the nation’s health and makes sport popular, interesting and trendy.“
Vladimir Putin: Protest actions and propaganda are after all two slightly different things. They are close enough but if we look at this from the legal point of view, a protest against a law is not propaganda of homosexuality itself or child sexual abuse. That is first point.
Second point. I would like to ask our colleagues – my colleagues and friends – before they try to criticise us, to solve the problem in their own home first. But I have already said that it is well known. In some US states, homosexuality is criminally punishable. And how can they criticise us for a far gentler and liberal approach to these issues compared to the one they have at home? However, I understand that it is difficult to do since there are a lot of people in the US itself that share the view that the laws of their state or of their country are just, reasonable and correspond with the sentiments of the larger part of its citizens. But we need to discuss this in some more appropriate international forums, to elaborate some common approaches. Anyway, we have got the message. And I am telling you that none of our guests will have any problems.
We remember how some African American citizens of the US protested during the Olympic Games, a major international competition, against segregation. I saw that myself on a TV screen. But that is all in all a general practice aimed at stating one’s rights.
Sergey Brilev: Mr President, if you would allow me to return to sport-related issues – you know, I remember that when London was getting ready for the Olympic Games, the British press made it seem as if something terrible was happening in the United Kingdom. And then a wonderful celebration of sport happened. Later on, however, when Mitt Romney, candidate for the US presidency, arrived in London and repeated the exact same things the London newspapers were writing, the latter rebuked him saying “do not dare, we will manage on our own, and we have a celebration of sport ahead of us.” And that is the kind of celebration that we now have ahead of us. The last time this country hosted the Olympic Games I was eight and I am sure that millions of people are expecting this major event.
You ski and play hockey; what competitions are you planning to attend? What are you planning to see, just for yourself? What results are you expecting from the Russian national team?
Vladimir Putin: I have already been asked this question. I can say that I will be able to attend competitions only on those days when I am free from the current work and this is not going to totally coincide with my sport preferences. But if I could go and see the competitions I am interested in, that would of course be hockey and alpine skis. I would also watch with great pleasure biathlon and figure skating.
Sergey Brilev: By the way, I would like to draw your attention to the fact that there were critics who said that there was no snow in Sochi, but during our interview it started snowing as if someone ordered it. So everything is going as planned.
Vladimir Putin: There is enough snow already and I hope that there will be more. The thing is that, as you know, here at night, the temperature falls below zero degrees Celsius and snow cannons are in active operation, but the needed amount of snow has already been accumulated.
Sergey Brilev: But it is clear that this is not the result of your assistants turning on snow cannons during the interview. It is actually snowing.
Vladimir Putin: I believe that everything is going to be all right.
George Stephanopoulos: I was just wondering whether you and Barack Obama made a bet what country would get more medals: the US or Russia?
Vladimir Putin: No, we never make bets like that. Mr Obama also loves sports, I can tell, he looks fit, and he pays a lot of attention to it, not only by doing sports, but also to the development of sport. Practically all American presidents have made it a priority in their policy and taken effective measures. That is why the US team traditionally achieves very good and impressive results. We wish success to our American friends, to all American athletes. I know that a lot of people in our country, millions of people admire American athletes and truly sincerely love them. As I have already said I would like to see sports freed from taint of politics. I think that we all stand to benefit from that.
But, of course, first of all we will support our athletes. Russia has traditionally achieved good results in winter sports. In previous years, because of the change of generations, and frankly, because of the loss of training base, which I have also already spoken about, we saw a certain decline, including the disappointing performance in Vancouver, although overall it was successful. We expect the situation to improve and that the scores, including the number of medals, will grow. This is important, but what is even more important for us, for Russia, is to create a favourable environment for the Games and to conduct them well. And it is very important that our athletes show their worth, display their character and skill.
As far as the medals are concerned, it is also an essential element of any sports competition, including the Olympics. But for me it is an even bigger priority that we have a viable, strong team that holds promise.
Andrew Marr: Mr President, before this sports festival starts there were a lot of amnesties in Russia, including for Greenpeace. Some critics say that you are just ”putting on a smiling face.“
Are these real liberal efforts that are part of the Russian policy or just a step to gain popularity?
Vladimir Putin: What kind of answer do you want to hear from me?
Andrew Marr: I would like you to say, ”I am a real liberal and hold liberal views.“
Vladimir Putin: That’s true. And one more thing. The amnesty had nothing to do with the Olympics; it was in honour of the 20th Anniversary of the Russian Constitution. That is the first point.
Second, in accordance with our law, the decision on the amnesty is not made by the President. It is an exclusive prerogative of the Parliament. It was not me who made the decision on the amnesty, but the Parliament. So I couldn’t even ”put on a smiling face.“ It was not my achievement, but the achievement of the State Duma deputies. But I certainly supported this initiative and believed that it was the right thing to do. In this regard, I would like to point out that Russia probably holds a record for the number of amnesties it has had. Here we need to strike a balance between those who committed crimes and the victims of these crimes. We talk a lot about the prisoners or people under investigation. And that is correct, we should never forget about them, especially as the situation in prisons in our country, as well as abroad, by the way, in many countries, is not as good as it could be. But we should never push to the sidelines the victims of those crimes. The government has to adopt a balanced position on these issues.
Irada Zeynalova: Mr President, while we have been talking the storm has already become so strong that you cannot see the mountains, and it is snowing harder and harder. It turns out that the Winter Games, just as the Summer ones, generally speaking, have one more organiser: the weather. The recent weather forecasts look like guesswork. Unfortunately, natural models aren’t working. What would you say, are we going to modify the weather during the Sochi Olympics or will we leave it to chance? For example, a few days during the competitions in Turin were cancelled because of fog and snow. Are we going to do anything about the weather so that the Games go on as planned?
Vladimir Putin: No, we will not do anything. Regrettably, a lot of things always have and always will depend on the weather. As you know, Australia, which is now hosting a major tennis tournament, is facing an extreme heat wave with temperature over 40°C resulting in some competitors fainting from heat. Here it started to snow rather unexpectedly and if the weather is not right for the competition, the International Olympic Committee will decide what to do about it. However, I do hope that the weather will cooperate. The statistics for many years show that this region generally has the right weather for winter sports from the first half of February to the end of March. I hope that despite all the fluctuations this year will not be an exception.
Irada Zeynalova: So we won’t need the thousands of tonnes of snow we have stored somewhere in the glaciers, will we?
Vladimir Putin: Well, there is clearly no need for it now, but we have stored it just in case. We have seen major international winter competitions, say, skiing races, with just a narrow track covered with snow for the skiers and green grass on both sides of it. Fortunately, that’s not the case here and I hope that it will not be.
Shui Junyi: Mr President, as I told you earlier, I received many questions for you from Chinese viewers before I arrived here. I have printed only a small part of them relating to the Games and you personally. China is not very strong at winter sports. What results do you expect from the Chinese team at the Sochi Olympics? In addition, some people wonder what sport are you worst at. In general, is there anything in the world that you do not know how to do? It seems that you have mastered everything.
Vladimir Putin: There is a famous saying: ”The more I know, the more I realise that I know nothing.“ I think that it applies to all people, including me.
As for sports, it’s true that I’m a big fan, both winter and summer sports. The expectations as to China’s results, whether at the Summer or Winter Olympics, are usually very high. China has developed an extremely successful system of training and motivating its athletes, and it is very important that preparation goes hand in hand with motivation.
I watched with great attention the way China raises its young generation of athletes, the way they are selected and trained, the way their psychological attitudes are shaped. There are plenty of lessons to learn there. With strong internal motivation like this athletes achieve maximum results.
Certainly, China has traditionally focused on summer sports rather than winter ones. Yet this is just a matter of adjusting the pattern. If China has made this adjustment or makes it in the near future, I believe that it will turn into a major competitor for those countries who have traditionally been strong at winter sports. We expect that Chinese athletes give a spectacular performance, and that they will both please and surprise winter sports fans from around the world. They can do it.
Ed Hula: Is it important for the success of the Winter Olympics and for your satisfaction with the Games that the Russian team wins a medal in ice hockey? How important is this to you?
Vladimir Putin: To be honest, it does matter. Not for me personally, and not to satisfy any ambition. Rather, it is important for the millions of our ice hockey fans. Ice hockey has traditionally been very popular in this country, and although it is often viewed as a Canadian sport, I believe it to be equally a Russian one. We are very grateful to Canadians for having invented this game, as well as to those who brought it to this country. It would be no exaggeration to say that ice hockey is loved by millions of people, with thousands of hundreds of people playing it and millions of people watching the matches. Certainly, ice hockey matches are always spectacular and memorable.
I would like to stress that in ice hockey, just like in any other sport, we expect success and victory, yet what is most important is that the players demonstrate excellence and strength of character. The most important result would be for our sports fans, and particularly ice hockey fans, to see that our athletes have pushed themselves to the end, and have shown excellence and talent. Then nobody would reproach them for failing to achieve a desired result. If they do achieve it, we will be very grateful to our athletes. Yet let me repeat, there is no point in making any forecasts or preliminary conclusions. We are very well aware that ice hockey has been gaining popularity all over the world and especially in Europe, which we are very happy about. Finnish and Swedish teams have always been strong, with Switzerland and Germany making great advances, not to mention the United States and Canada. You see, we would be very happy to see these outstanding players come to Russia and show off their talents. We are very grateful to all of our partners and to all of these prominent athletes. We will be very happy to see them and to welcome them here, and we are looking forward to watching them play.
Shui Junyi: Mr President, I’d like to change the subject of our conversation: let’s talk about the role of the Olympics for Russia. I have heard you call the Olympics your baby, your project. I have also heard people say that Russia got the chance to host the Games largely through your contribution. You also mentioned that you could make Russia a strong and powerful country within 20 years. Is there a connection between Sochi Olympics and your vision for a strong Russia? Some media even say it is somehow linked to your future political career. Could you comment on that?
Vladimir Putin: As you know, there is a strong connection between the Olympic Games, the progress in sport and successful development of a nation overall; they are closely linked, because great sport achievements are mostly a result of effective economic and social policies. Russia wanted to host the Olympic Games in 1994 and in the early 2000s, but I believe it was obvious to both Russia and the International Olympic Committee that it would be very hard for the country due to purely economic reasons. Russia’s GDP and household incomes have almost doubled and even though our gold and foreign currency reserves of over $500 billion are not as big as China’s, we still rank third in the world.
The Russian Government has two reserve funds. Over the recent years, we have nearly always had a surplus budget. Last year, we had just a meagre deficit of −0.5 percent, which is insignificant. We have paid off all our external debts. The trade balance surplus is about $196 billion, although I may be mistaken on the exact figures. This means that our economic development and potential economic growth empower us to carry out such projects. We have become the fifth world economy not in terms of income per capita, but in terms of GDP and purchasing power parity. This is quite an achievement.
Just like any other country, we have our problems, but the results achieved allow us to reach our social objectives, including those in the demographic sphere, which we have already mentioned today. I would like to point out that now the number of births in Russia exceeds the number of deaths for the first time in 20 years. Thus, we can raise salaries in publically funded sector, including healthcare and education.
”I would very much like Sochi to serve as an example of how the issue of creating a barrier free environment can be addressed. Here this was done from scratch drawing upon the highest modern standards.“
All these factors create a solid basis for achievements in sports, which, in turn, will have a positive effect on the demographics. In fact, you could say that we are promoting sport as a means to improve demographics and the nation’s health. Such major events as world championships, European championships and Olympic Games encourage people, especially young people, to take up sports, promotes mass sport participation, which certainly has a positive impact on the nation’s health and makes sport popular, interesting and trendy. I believe all of this to be of extreme importance, and it has nothing to do with my personal ambitions. It is the interests of the state and its people in their purest form. It certainly gives me great pleasure to see us do this work, but again, not because of any ambitions.
There is also a certain psychological aspect here and we can talk about it directly, without any embarrassment or pretence. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, after the dark and, let us be honest, bloody events in the Caucasus, the public attitude in Russia became very negative and pessimistic. We have to pull ourselves together and realise that we can deliver large-scale projects on time and with high standards, and by projects I mean not only stronger defence potential, but also developments in the humanitarian sphere, including high achievement sport. I believe that all this is a step in the right direction, as it strengthens the nation’s morale, as well as its social and healthcare sectors, and creates preconditions for future development.
Shui Junyi: In your opinion, what image of Russia can the Sochi Olympic Games convey to the world, what story can they tell?
Vladimir Putin: I would like the participants, fans, journalists and all those who watch the Games on TV and follow them through the media to see a new Russia, see its face and its possibilities, and take a fresh and unbiased look at the country. I am sure that this will happen, it must bring about positive results and it will help Russia to build up relations with its partners around the world.
Andrew Marr: You sound very convincing. You have been named the third most influential person in the world, ahead of the Pope. Do you think it is possible for you to stand for election once again? Do you consider such a possibility? Or maybe someone’s become bored?
Vladimir Putin: I think we should simply ignore all such ratings. Besides, no layperson can get the better of the Pope. Such a comparison is completely irrelevant. The Pope is in charge of the biggest state in the world, an informal state. To use present-day language, it is a kind of a network state. Do you see? But it is real and not virtual, because the number of Catholics in the world is huge – it's already one billion people. Apart from that, the Pope has great spiritual influence, which is far more important than political clout.
We have our own Orthodox leaders. First of all, it is Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia. I have enormous respect for him. He makes a huge contribution to our nation’s spiritual growth, and that applies to all Russians, not just Orthodox believers, because he works together with other representatives of traditional Russian religions in order to promote inter-religious and inter-ethnic peace. So Russian Orthodox Church carries out great work in this respect and it has positive results.
As for ratings, let me say once again that I don’t consider them important. The situation changes every day. One can never be guided by them. The most important thing in any sphere of activity is to feel that you are a professional and to constantly increase your level of expertise and the quality of your work.
Concerning ambitions, it is too early to speak about this. It’s only 2014 and we will have elections in 2018. What we need to do now is work, and then we will see. The worst and the most dangerous thing that can happen to a politician is holding on to power by any means and focusing only on this. In this case his failure is inevitable as he’s always afraid of taking the wrong step. This is not what you should be thinking about; you need to focus on the results of your work. Time will show.
Sergey Brilev: Mr President, I’d like to talk about the future and the past at the same time. I had the fortune to be in Guatemala when Sochi was chosen to host the Olympics. It was at that moment that our paralympians showed their worth so clearly.
Vladimir Putin: Yes.
Sergey Brilev: The future after the Olympics includes Paralympic Games.
Vladimir Putin: Right.
Sergey Brilev: I don’t know if this was planned or not, but now Sochi, and not only those polished parts of the city that are intended for the Olympics, but also the areas that have fewer foreigners and more Russian people, as well as other Russian cities are becoming friendlier toward not only paralympians but all people with disabilities. This is quite tangible. Much has to be done as the disabled still face many problems, but the progress has started. Was this your intention when you brought in paralympians?
Vladimir Putin: Yes, it was. Moreover, we have a federal programme on the so-called barrier free environment. Unfortunately, I have to admit that we fall far behind many other countries in creating such a barrier free environment. I believe it is regrettable, but this is the situation we have had since the Soviet times. And I am very pleased that we are leaving this negative tradition behind. We have adopted the programme on a barrier free environment, and it is being implemented in various ways in different regions, and this obviously requires additional funding. But I would very much like Sochi to serve as an example of how the issue of creating a barrier free environment can be addressed; this was my initial plan. Here this was done from scratch drawing upon the highest modern standards. And I reiterate that from the very beginning I wanted the programme on a barrier free environment in Sochi to become an example for other Russian regions.
As for our paralympians, they are all outstanding athletes. I cannot but feel gratitude when I mention them, because they win more medals than our Olympic team. This is first, and it is very important. Second, it is actually quite obvious that they serve as an example for people with and without disabilities, an example of how one can and should become stronger spiritually, to keep moving forward and enjoy life to the full. Regrettably, our state is still far from meeting all the needs of people with disabilities in the modern world. When our paralympians achieve outstanding results, by doing so they push the state to address those issues. I feel very grateful to them and, of course, I count on their brilliant performance during these Paralympic Games. By the way, the media don’t pay enough attention to them… some more than others though. There is a small channel called RBC, which provides regular commentary on the paralympians. I haven’t seen it on national TV channels though.
Sergei Brylev: I hear you, Mr President.
George Stephanopoulos: You have been investing heavily in the Olympics since 2007. How would you measure success in Sochi? Will it influence your reputation and is it a question of honour for you?
Vladimir Putin: I want it to be a success for this country. As I said, we are hosts, and our top priority – not in sports but on a state level – is to create good conditions for athletes, fans, journalists and tourists, so that people come to an international celebration of sports, the most important winter sports event this year, and feel that they are right in the centre of this celebration, so that millions of fans throughout the world feel it too even if they are hundreds or thousands miles away from Sochi. This is our main goal. Of course, people in Russia should also see that our country can hold such events and be a part of this celebration. This is the first point.
Another very important aspect is that it should influence the development of mass sports in the country, and that is also one of our key goals. Of course, we expect good results from our athletes. This is not an exhaustive list, I mention only obvious things, but if all these elements are there, it will be a success. In a way, it would be my success as well as of the Russian Government, of the regional authorities, of all those who took part in the preparation – the builders, designers, engineers and workers. It will be their success too, and I will be happy for them if everything goes smoothly. I am sure they will be happy as well. So, it is not going to be my personal success but of a whole country. I hope it will happen.
Irada Zeynalova: When you won the presidential election, you came out onto the square, and we all could see how emotional you were. Preparation for the Olympic Games is a much more complex and time-consuming task than any election campaign. Have you thought about March 18, what it will feel like when this gigantic task is completed?
Vladimir Putin: No, I haven’t. I just thought about planning the work to prepare for this event. After that, I considered how to deal with the first, second, third stage of preparation, how well one thing is done and how we can address another. I would say it was a general and a stage-by-stage approach to all the issues. I never thought much about how it may look to others.
Irada Zeynalova: On March 18everybody will leave, you will see off the guests and finally get the time for a late celebration of the New Year, like all the people who were busy preparing for the Sochi Games. Have you made any plans for that belated New Year celebration?
Vladimir Putin: No, I think there will be other tasks and other things to take care of.
George Stephanopoulos: You said that it is essential to promote fitness and sports. We know that you practice judo and play ice hockey. How do you stay in shape, and is it important for you?
”Our paralympians are all outstanding athletes. They serve as an example for people with and without disabilities, an example of how one can and should become stronger spiritually, to keep moving forward and enjoy life to the full.“
Vladimir Putin: How to control one’s weight? Don’t overeat. How to stay in shape? Do sports. There are no magic pills here. I do a bit of sports every day. Yesterday I skied here until 1.30 am, this morning I exercised in a gym, and I swim 1,000 meters almost every day. That’s nothing special, but I do it regularly. You know the saying: the chicken pecks grain after grain.
Shui Junyi: I also have a personal question which came from Chinese Internet users. Have you thought about what you are going to do when you retire? Chinese Internet users say that you are very handsome and masculine. Maybe you will play tough guys in the movies?
Vladimir Putin: That’s unlikely. Maybe I will play hockey. We have recently created our own NHL. It is not called the National Hockey League but the Night Hockey League, where non-professional 40+ people can play. I was very glad to see that this initiative is followed throughout the Russian Federation. Teams are now being created in every region, they hold competitions, and the final is held in Moscow or in Sochi, like it was last year. More than a hundred teams arrived from all Russia’s regions. Two and a half years ago I couldn’t skate at all. And now you may have seen me trying to show off sometimes. That’s what I enjoy. If and when I retire, I will try to do things that I enjoy.
Shui Junyi: Thank you.
* * *
After the joint interview, Vladimir Putin separately answered questions from media representatives.
Interview for the BBC
Question: You talked at great length about gay rights, but I still do not understand completely you own view. If I was our most prominent actor Sir Ian McKellen and if you were standing here and he had said “Do you have a personal problem with gay people? Are you happy to work closely with gay people? Do you feel that gay people are being discriminated against in Russia?” — what would you tell him?
Vladimir Putin: If you want to know what I personally think about this, a person’s sexual orientation actually does not make any difference to me. I know a few of them, and I am on friendly terms with some of them.
It makes no difference to me what an individual’s religious beliefs are. I respect followers of any religion.
Question: So if Sir Elton John or Ian McKellen arrived would you be prepared to talk to them about this?
Vladimir Putin: Of course, I would. I do meet with those who live here, and talk to them. As I said, I even present some of them with state decorations for their achievements in their work, not for their sexual preferences.
Question: I will send the message back.
This area reminds me of Scotland at times. In the United Kingdom, we are facing a referendum this year, where the Scots are going to vote on whether to leave the UK. I know there is a lot of movement around the world for historic old countries to leave other countries, a secessionist mood if you like. I just wonder what message you might have for David Cameron in this very big year for Britain.
Vladimir Putin: This is not our concern; this is an internal British issue. I believe any people has a right to self-determination, while in present-day Europe the idea of diluting national sovereignty within the common European framework is somewhat simplified. However, remaining within the framework of a single powerful state has its advantages, and we should keep this in mind. However, I repeat, this is the choice of a given nation in a given historic situation.
Question: Perhaps you could invite the Scots to join your new Customs Union.
Vladimir Putin: That is quite possible.
Interview for ABC News
Question: Sir, you had some kind words inside for the American athletes, but it has been a difficult couple of years in US-Russia relationships. So what do you say to Americans who see Russia and you not only as a rival, but as an unfriendly adversary?
Vladimir Putin: You know there are always some points of coincidence and points of difference between large states; they differ in their approach to the resolution of certain issues. I would like to stress here that during any sharp turns in world history Russia and the USA have always been together, I mean the First and Second World Wars. In other words, we could argue, and we continue to do so on some matters, but when the situation is extraordinary, we always join efforts. Today we do have differences, but there are also areas where we work together, and do it quite efficiently. I am referring here to our efforts to stop the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, to combat terrorism, our joint work on the situations around Syria and Iran.
As for the athletes, I would suggest not to think of the political differences that are coming up between our countries in our day-to-day work. Politics should not influence sports, because sport brings people closer together and creates the conditions for resolving even the most complicated issues. There are many talented athletes in America; and I assure you that in Russia we know them, love them and follow their careers. The American athletes who will come to Sochi will find a very warm welcome here: they have their fans here.
Question: I suppose the most famous American in Russia now is Edward Snowden. Was he invited to the Sochi Olympics?
Vladimir Putin: The most famous American in Russia is Barack Obama. Everyone was invited, but as for Mr Snowden, he is a temporary refugee in Russia, he has the right to travel around the country and does not need any special invitation; he can buy a ticket and attend.
Question: And can he stay for as long as he likes?
Vladimir Putin: Of course.
Interview for Russia-1
Question: Mr Putin, my cameraman was angry with me before the interview for positioning myself so that the Olympic rings were not in full view, and then it started snowing. Did you give the order for the snow to begin falling?
Vladimir Putin: No, this is not something I can order to happen. (Laughter)
Remark: Everybody kept saying it would not snow, while look at it now!
Vladimir Putin: Yes, quite enough, thank God.
Question: You keep very politely avoiding the subject of how many medals you think the Russian team will win. Is this because you would not want to hurt anyone, or because you fear you might exceed your own expectations?
Vladimir Putin: I would not want to jinx it. Besides, there is no point in doing this. Sports always contain an element of surprise; there is always some good or bad luck involved. Therefore, it is hard to predict anything, almost impossible. However, I would like to repeat something I already said: speaking of results, the most important thing is for our athletes to be convincing, to fight to the end and to show their skills, to make their fans happy.
Question: I would add, in turn, that they should look upon the Paralympic athletes as role models who have more medals overall than even our junior team, which is doing fine. Maybe our ‘adults’ should keep up this tendency, don’t you think?
Vladimir Putin: To say ‘doing fine’ is to say nothing. Judging by last year, if we try to make up an imaginary youth team of Russia they would leave behind their age mates on all counts. We are twice as good in winter sports as our closest competitors, junior team Norway.
Remark: So Sochi is a rehearsal before future Olympic Games, where we will, definitely…
Vladimir Putin: It is not only a rehearsal, but also an impetus for the development of mass sports, including children and youth sports. As for mass sports in general, since we began preparing for the winter Olympic Games in Sochi the number of people doing sports in this country has doubled.
Question: Is this already a reality?
Vladimir Putin: It is. Moreover, the number of women doing sports has tripled.
Question: I would like to be a bit of a dissident in this conversation with the President, if I may. You do downhill skiing, I try (and usually manage) to begin each day with cross-country skiing; I also learned curling. Are there any Olympic mysteries that you would like to solve during the Games?
”As for the athletes, I would suggest not to think of the political differences that are coming up between our countries in our day-to-day work. Politics should not influence sports, because sport brings people closer together and creates the conditions for resolving even the most complicated issues.“
Vladimir Putin: No, there aren’t any. To solve a mystery one should practice every day, like you and I, and not merely observe, though watching other people do it is also very exciting. I already spoke of my preferences: I would like to watch biathlon trials, specifically here, on these grounds. It would be interesting to watch some new events, for instance there will be three luge relay races, or the team event in figure skating.
Remark: Mr Putin, you startle us! This means that in a couple of years we might see you in luge or figure skating…(Laughter)
Vladimir Putin: Hardly. This only means that for me, just like for many other sports fans, it is interesting to see what it is like.
So, I will enjoy seeing all these new events on the Olympic programme.
Question: And my last question (I will get down to politics).
We have noticed that on Monday, for the first time after a long break, you called a meeting of the Government Cabinet at your office. Does this have anything to do with the Olympics, or is this a way of reformatting your work?
Vladimir Putin: There is no Olympic connection here at all. This has to do with the implementation of our plans, which were formulated during the election campaign. We agreed with the Prime Minister to consolidate efforts on certain areas that I find especially important. At times we can only achieve this at the Presidential level. We need to consolidate the efforts of the Government, the Presidential Executive Office and local authorities to resolve key issues of our economic and social development. So that we send precise and timely signals to our economy, including together with the Central Bank. So that we resolve top priority social and economic issues together, for example such issues as housing construction, education, and healthcare. These are the few things that can be effectively done and effectively organised only at Presidential level.
Question: Does this mean that you are somewhat dissatisfied with the Cabinet and would like to shift decision-making to this Presidential Commission on the economy?
Vladimir Putin: No, this is not so, but we need to give an impetus, as I have said, to certain areas. The Government is the top executive body of the country; this is a very high level of authority. However, in order to work efficiently and to join the efforts, as I said, of the regional authorities, the Central Bank, the Government and the Executive Office, there has to be coordination between all these authorities at every level. And this, it seems, can only be achieved by the President.
Interview for CCTV
Question: There are only 20 days left until the Olympic Games in Sochi. Is Russia ready, Mr President?
You are the best person to ask this. You have just mentioned in your conversations with various media how good relations between China and Russia are, how strong our friendship is. How would you describe relations between Russia and China from a strategic standpoint?
Vladimir Putin: They are of a truly strategic and friendly nature. We cooperate in all areas: in politics, the economy, in the humanitarian sphere, in security, which is very important (I refer here to cooperation in military technology and in the purely military sphere). However, humanitarian cooperation is acquiring an ever-prominent role. Thus, we have agreed with Chairman Xi Jinping to hold years of mutual student exchange. I believe that here cooperation, including that in sports, is of great importance.
I also hope that trans-border cooperation will also give an additional impetus to developing intergovernmental relations. We are satisfied with the development of relations between Russia and China.
Question: China and Russia are countries that won in World War II. There are countries and forces in the world today that are trying to distort the results of World War II, deny its results and the world order that was created on that basis. What can you say?
Vladimir Putin: I would like to say that the outcome of World War II is unchangeable and it has been fixed by a number of international legal documents. We will work continuously to implement these agreements. However, we will also strive to develop good neighbourly relations with all countries of the world, and work together to strengthen international security. I hope that a majority of participants in international relations have the same understanding and are prepared for such joint work.
Question: How do you like the biathlon track?
Vladimir Putin: I like it very much. Currently this is one of the best biathlon facilities in the world. Though I am sure Chinese experts will examine it and create something even better (Laughter)
Interview for Channel One
Question: Mr Putin, you speak of the Olympics with true Olympic passion. Did the sweet (or scary) idea ever occur to you that neither Sochi nor we had won?
Vladimir Putin: That we would lose, or that we would fail to hold the Games?
Remark: That we never have the Games.
Vladimir Putin: Yes, of course. As I already said, we have been planning to develop the Greater Sochi area and the entire south of the country ever since 2006–2007. Overall, we simply used the Olympic project to implement these goals of a truly national scale, with no exaggeration.
Therefore, the fact that we got to host the Olympics, that the IOC entrusted us with it only created additional opportunities for concentrating financial and administrative resources in order to develop one region, and this was in fact the main goal – to develop the region in terms of infrastructure, nature conservation, transport, sports. And we did it that is what really matters.
Question: But the issue of holding winter Olympics remains a strongly debated one. How can you have winter Olympics in a sub-tropical location? So many years have passed, we explained it all so many times – and still the question remains.
Vladimir Putin: This means that we have not yet explained everything. The truth is that all winter Olympics, with the exception of, I believe, Lillehammer in 1994, were held either on the same latitude as Sochi or even further South. Traditionally Winter Olympics are not held in the Arctic or the Antarctic, where temperatures go down to minus 50C. We have such areas, no problem: it is minus 47–50 in Yakutia now. However, it is impossible to ski or race there, or have many other competitions. The choice was always in favour of places with mild winters. Sochi is one such place.
Question: Mr Putin, Sochi is a major Russian project, a national construction site, the key reputational construction site of the nation. We declared that we want to make these Games the best, and we are doing everything to this end. However there is always someone looking for specks and beams. The heads of 12 states came to Vancouver; more than 40 have confirmed that they are coming here. Nevertheless, every statement is being discussed, to find the reason.
Does this attitude in any way offend you, this being the most important project in this country in the past years?
Vladimir Putin: Firstly, we did not put our every effort into this. We still have enough left for other projects, for achieving other goals. But it did take a significant effort, financially and administratively, as I said.
Secondly, the Olympics are not a competition for politicians. They are for athletes. We are doing everything with this very goal in mind.
I would like to reiterate that we are trying to organise a festival for all sports fans the world over, not only for ourselves. However, yours truly is primarily concerned with creating a festival for the citizens of the Russian Federation. But generally speaking we have in mind all sports fans of the world and we are doing it for them. Any political ambitions of the kind ‘how many people arrived and where’ are out of place here. Thus, for instance, I attended the opening of the London Olympics. However, what I was really interested in was seeing the judo matches. I came specifically for these events and I was grateful to Prime Minister Cameron for offering his company. We saw the brilliant performance of British and Russian athletes. Some presidents and prime ministers traditionally do not attend the opening ceremony. Some do it in accordance with their schedule, others do not. I see it as a good reason to meet and talk things over, of course, but I would not like to mix sports and politics.
Question: In London you were on the stands watching our judo wrestlers, and they say it brought Russia gold. Now you are saying that you will show up on the stands at various events depending on your schedule. What if the event turns out to be curling? Have you even figured out what those people are doing on ice? Because if we do, this is a good chance for us to become Olympic champions.
Vladimir Putin: Ever more events are appearing on the Olympic programme all the time now, and this is good because it expands the fans’ outlook, creates new experiences. I am interested in such new events as mogul, or ski jumps – very impressive; and such a new event as curling is also very interesting, for us at least. I tried it only once, but I did rather well and it made me very happy.
This sport is just as interesting as any other, and I am very happy to see the good progress we are making here. I wish our athletes every success in this event. If I manage to come and watch it – I would do so gladly, just like any other event.
Generally, there are no events on the Olympic programme that are not interesting. Each has to do with strong passion; each is a demonstration of top skills and talents of those who are doing it, the athletes. I am sure that whatever event a person comes to see, they will enjoy it.
Question: March 18 is the beginning of your delayed winter holidays. Have you made any plans?
Vladimir Putin: No, I have not. I will follow my regular business schedule.