On the eve of his visit to Britain scheduled for December 21–22, the Russian President answered questions from the Financial Times newspaper. The questions concerned the US withdrawal from the ABM Treaty, its impact on Russian-American relations, on further cooperation in the fight against terrorism and on the Russian economy.
Mr Putin said the US uni-lateral withdrawal from the ABM Treaty was a mistake, but it could not pose new threats to Russia’s security. He said a national missile defence did not exist yet, and it was not certain if and when it would be created. He added that Russia already had the means to penetrate any anti-missile defence.
The President said Russia had rejected the option of bilateral withdrawal from the ABM Treaty because it did not consider the US arguments convincing. He pointed out that Washington justified the move by the possible use of nuclear weapons by terrorists and “rogue states”. But the Treaty regulates the possible use of strategic ballistic missiles, which neither terrorists nor “rogue states” possess and are unlikely to ever possess.
The President also noted that once the ABM Treaty and all the related limitations ceased to be in effect, Russia would have the right to put multiple warheads on its missiles, but it was not going to avail itself of that right.
At the same time, the President does not believe that the US withdrawal from the ABM Treaty will prevent the two countries from developing closer relations.
When asked how the war on terror was going to develop and whether Iraq would be the next target, the Russian President said that the operation in Afghanistan would not and could not mark the end of the fight against terror. At the same time Mr Putin said that Russia had no information to confirm that Iraq was financing terrorists. According to Russian data, financing comes from other countries.
Noting that the world community is also concerned about the possibility that Iraq is developing weapons of mass destruction, Mr Putin said that Russia had proposed to Iraq to allow international observers and UN inspectors to visit the facilities of interest to the international community in exchange for the lifting of sanctions.
He said that Russia expected the US to consult it before launching military operations outside Afghanistan.
The President believes that Russia is entitled to more active international support of its actions in Chechnya. Mr Putin named two main destructive forces at play there: international terrorists, mainly from the Arab countries, and the remnants of the separatists. As for international terrorists, the President stressed that they had been trained at al-Qaeda camps. As regards the separatists, who have close links with international terrorists, Mr Putin said Russia does not support separatism in other countries and hopes that nobody will support separatists in Russia.
He admitted that the current drop in oil prices was not good news for Russia, nor was it particularly bad news. He cited some Russian experts who believe that the drop in prices will inevitably result in redistribution of resources and the growth of other sectors in the Russian economy.
The President called on the industrialised countries to overcome the “political hangover from the former years” in the sphere of trade and economic relations with Russia. He cited the problem of Russia’s accession to the World Trade Organisation as an example. Mr Putin said it was hard to explain why the Russian delegation was given conditions no other candidate country had been presented with.
In answer to the question whether he was disappointed with the lack of progress in the implementation of the British Prime Minister’s proposals to change the character of Russia-NATO relations, the Russian leader praised Tony Blair’s initiative, but said he was not unduly optimistic about it. In Mr Putin’s opinion, one should be patient and proceed carefully and professionally.
The President stressed that Russia had never compromised on its national interests, citing its position on the ABM Treaty. Mr Putin said that such a balanced position in upholding national interests on the one hand and seeking friendly relations with Russia’s partners, on the other, enjoyed popular support in the country.