Vladimir Putin: Good morning, or good evening. Which time zone are we following?
Reply: Good night!
Question: The first question concerns recent news: The United States declared new sanctions against Russia.
Vladimir Putin: Really?
Question: You already said earlier that Russia may prepare retaliatory measures. What will be the response this time?
Vladimir Putin: We will need to see what those sanctions entail; we will need to look into it calmly, without any commotion. In general, I would like to say that unfortunately, those who plan foreign policy actions in the United States (this is not a recent observation but one pertaining to the last 10–15 years) are conducting an aggressive foreign policy and, in my view, a rather unprofessional one, because whatever they do, there are problems everywhere.
Just look: there are problems in Afghanistan; Iraq is falling apart; Libya is falling apart. If General el-Sisi had not taken control in Egypt, Egypt would probably be in turmoil now as well. In Africa, there are problems in many countries. They touched Ukraine, and there are problems there as well.
It would be good if everyone understood that we must rely on the fundamental principles of international law and domestic law, and treat statehood and constitutionality with great care, particularly in nations that are just getting on their feet, where the political system is still fairly young and immature, and where the economy is still developing.
”It would be good if everyone understood that we must rely on the fundamental principles of international law and domestic law, and treat statehood and constitutionality with great care, particularly in nations that are just getting on their feet, where the political system is still fairly young and immature, and where the economy is still developing.“
We need to treat state institutions with great care. There are grave consequences when they are regarded with disdain: disintegration and internal conflicts, as we are currently observing in Ukraine.
The people who are pushing other countries toward such developmentsshould never forget that the blood of the soldiers in the regular army, the blood of the fighters in the resistance, and the civilians, first and foremost, is on their hands, as are the tears of the mothers, widows and orphans – they are on their conscience, and they do not have any moral right to shrug off this responsibility onto anyone else’s shoulders.
Here is what should be done jointly: calling on all sides in the conflict in Ukraine to immediately cease hostilities and start talks. But unfortunately, we are not seeing this on the part of our partners, first and foremost our American partners who, on the contrary, it seems to me, are pushing Ukraine’s current authorities toward continuing a fratricidal war and continuing retributive operations. This policy holds no promise.
As for various sanctions, I have already said that they generally have a boomerang effect and, without a doubt, in this case, are driving the Russian-US relations into a stalemate and seriously damaging them. I am certain that this is harmful to the US Administration and American people’s long-term strategic national interests.
It is very unfortunate that our partners are following this path, but the door to the negotiation process for overcoming and getting past this situation remains open. I hope that reason and the desire to settle all problems via peaceful, diplomatic means will prevail.
Question: A clarifying question following the first one. A Ukraine contact group never gathered, the fighting in southeast Ukraine continues and is probably gaining intensity. What is your assessment of this situation?
Vladimir Putin: It is very unfortunate that a contact group did not come together. I feel that everyone who has relations with and influence on the parties in this conflict should do everything in order for the bloodshed to end, immediately and from both sides.
The necessary measures must be taken to get all the conflicting sides to sit down at a negotiation table and resolve the national crisis through peace talks.
”The people who are pushing other countries toward such developments [internal conflicts] should never forget that the blood of the soldiers in the regular army, the blood of the fighters in the resistance, and the civilians, first and foremost, is on their hands, and they do not have any moral right to shrug off this responsibility onto anyone else’s shoulders.“
Question: Back to Latin America: your visit was unprecedented both in duration and in intensity. How do you assess it, what prospects do you see, what are your impressions?
Vladimir Putin: My impressions are good. My goal was to resume, or rather uphold our contacts with our long-time partners, allies and friends, such as Cuba, for instance. We need to expand relations with other prospective countries in the region, such as Argentina. However, as you may know, the main reason for the visit was participation in the BRICS summit.
I would like to note that this growing association has very good prospects for developing as a union. I was very happy to see my colleagues in a very positive, spirited mood.
I would like to remind you of something we have already mentioned: the BRICS states account for over 40 percent of the world’s population and 21 percent of the global GDP. However, it is not the share that is so important, but the fact that these countries have been posting very significant growth rates.
In the past 10 years the GDP of countries with developed economies grew by 60 percent, while that of the BRICS states increased four-fold. We have to bear in mind, of course, that the 60 percent growth was in comparison to a large volume, a large starting point, while our four-fold growth was in regard to a smaller base; however, such are the rates.
These are all young states, and the future belongs to the young. Naturally, we should restore our presence in this fascinating and very promising part of the world.
What we have done is we signed some very important documents, and all this was implemented in a very short period, within a year. I am referring here to the creation of the New Development Bank. Each participant will contribute $2 billion. I believe this will be a very good, efficient, new, modern market tool for the development of our economies.
The Contingent Reserve Arrangement is also a very good instrument that can influence the macroeconomy of our states to a certain extent. Russia intends to invest up to $18 billion. I believe, as I have said, that this may be a good instrument for the stabilisation of our economies and, of course, for the rational distribution of our states’ reserves.
Question: I would like to ask you about Cuba. Do you think they still have any hard feelings after we, to put it bluntly, left the region in 2000? What are the prospects, in your opinion, for our cooperation with Cuba?
And another question: there have been reports that we are returning to Lourdes. Is that true?
Vladimir Putin: Not, it is not. We did not discuss this.
”Here is what should be done jointly: calling on all sides in the conflict in Ukraine to immediately cease hostilities and start talks. But unfortunately, we are not seeing this on the part of our partners, first and foremost our American partners who, on the contrary, are pushing Ukraine’s current authorities toward continuing a fratricidal war and continuing retributive operations. This policy holds no promise.“
As for hard feelings, you know, this kind of language is inappropriate for international relations, though I suppose our Cuban friends did have some negative feelings after the sharp termination of our relations in the 1990s. I did not feel it now. Moreover, unfortunately, when Russia left, its place was taken up by someone else.
Thus, Canadian companies are working actively in metals, or mining to be more exact; European, and primarily Spanish companies are developing tourism, and so forth. This is a very interesting country, and we have excellent relations that rest on a solid historical foundation.
This country has many achievements in the social sphere, in education and healthcare, for example. Cuban doctors are working all over Latin America, doing a lot for the development of healthcare in the region as a whole. Moreover, even the budget revenues from this sector are quite significant. In a word, we have some joint plans, and I hope they will be implemented.
Remark: Thank you. Too bad about Lourdes, though.
Vladimir Putin: No, it is not too bad. We are capable of resolving our defence issues without this component. We shut down this centre on agreement with our Cuban friends, and we have no plans to resume its activities.
Question: Mr Putin, the IMF delegation is finalising its decision on the scope of funding for Ukraine. What do you think of this sort of aid to that country?
Vladimir Putin: I would like to begin by saying that Russia is strongly interested in the quickest possible termination of the conflict in Ukraine for a number of reasons.
I do not know if there is any other country, apart from Russia and Ukraine itself, that would be so interested in stopping the bloodshed and resolving the situation in a neighbouring state. This is because we have many friends there, because our relations have always been special (there are many Russians, Russian-speaking people there), and for other reasons, like economic ones.
It is imperative to put an end to the armed conflict there, as I have already said, to the military confrontation, establish a ceasefire on both sides – this is something I would like to stress – and get the conflicting parties to sit down at the negotiating table.
In view of the above, we are interested in economic aid to Ukraine, including aid provided by the IMF. At the same time, I would like to stress that the Fund’s rules are such that it does not provide aid to countries that are at war. I believe that is the right approach, and I think it should also be applied to Ukraine. You may ask why.
Because money is given to a country for a certain purpose, it ends up being spent on other things. Money is allocated to support the economy and the social sphere, but it is spent on military operations and is embezzled under this guise.
This, I believe, is exactly what is happening in Ukraine with the first tranche. A large part of the funding was to be used to support banking and the financial sector. From what I know most of this funding was transferred to banks privately owned by Ukrainian oligarchs.
Where is this money now, what happened to it, whose pockets did it end up in – this is something the IMF and the general public in Ukraine and in the countries supporting it should find out. Therefore, we should first stop the hostilities and then give money.
Apart from everything else, part of the first tranche of the funding was meant to be used to pay for Ukraine’s commitments under foreign trade contracts. This includes payments for the delivery of Russian energy resources. We have not seen any of this money either.
”Various sanctions generally have a boomerang effect and, without a doubt, in this case, are driving the Russian-US relations into a stalemate and seriously damaging them. This is harmful to the US Administration and American people’s long-term strategic national interests.“
What is happening to IMF funding is the same thing that happened to the Russian loans, to the billions of dollars Ukraine received from Russia late last year: there is no debt repayment, no current payments. We would very much like to know where our money is, what it was spent on.
If everything I spoke of is implemented, then of course we are in favour of supporting Ukraine, however not the Ukrainian oligarchs and thieves, but the Ukrainian people. This is a very important task. The proposed plan and instruments for monitoring its implementation should be presented in a way that would leave no doubt regarding the purpose of the funding and the way it is used.
Question: I would like to get back to BRICS, if you do not mind. Yesterday I listened carefully to all the speeches of all the participants in the general meeting. You spoke of what has been done, while all the others spoke of what they wanted BRICS to be like. I did not see the high spirits you mentioned, and most importantly – I did not see the prospects. Do you think such prospects truly exist, or will it all be limited to this New Development Bank, important as it is?
Vladimir Putin: No, not at all. There is something very important that was not there before. Though this may not sound as significant, we have signed a declaration. In economic relations, we are used to operating with things like contracts and agreements, but this is a very important document that speaks of coordinating our positions, including those in international relations. In this sense, we can say that BRICS is acquiring a new quality. This is one point.
As for the economy, we have prepared a joint action plan, and we are working on a strategy. We are looking for new areas where we could apply our efforts and funds. In other words, we are developing a mechanism of joint action, which is very important.
I can say with confidence that BRICS is truly coming to life. Only recently, in 2005, when we were hosting the G8 summit in St Petersburg, we proposed to our Chinese and Indian friends for the first time to get together. That was how it all began.
In a short while, Brazil and the South African Republic joined us, and that was how BRICS came to be. It is only making its first steps, while there is no need to say much about its member-states: India, China and 200 million people in Brazil.
You know, back in mid-1970’s the population of Brazil was only 90 million, while today it is 200 million. These are young rapidly developing states with rapidly growing economies. We have things to consider and to do to jointly enhance our competitiveness.
Question: Mr Putin, some clarification regarding the sanctions, if I may.
Vladimir Putin: What is there to clarify? We are not introducing any sanctions. Why don’t you ask those who are.
Question: Nevertheless, a few months ago you said this (I may get it a bit wrong): if there are more sanctions, if this goes on, Russia may take a careful look at the foreign companies operating in its energy sector. Do you think the time has come to take such a look?
Vladimir Putin: You are referring to what I said about the boomerang effect. I said that the measures taken by the American Administration against Russia might run counter to the interests of the United States. What does this mean?
”I can say with confidence that BRICS is truly coming to life. These are young rapidly developing states with rapidly growing economies. We have things to consider and to do to jointly enhance our competitiveness.“
This means that some foreign companies might want to operate in Russia, but because of certain limitations, they may lose their competitive edge over certain other international energy companies. We did allow a major American company to operate on our shelf. Don’t the United States want it to work there?
They are harming their own energy companies. For what purpose? To be able to insist on making a new mistake after they made the previous one? I find this approach unprofessional, at the very least. Eventually, methods of resolving international issues will have to change, but those who are doing this will be responsible for the damages.
Question: A question about the Moscow metro, if I may. I am sorry, you have already offered your condolences, and an investigation has been launched. Do you think the Moscow authorities should be held responsible, as they are the ones who rally for a shift to municipal transport?
Vladimir Putin: Responsibility should always be personal. There is a classic example from criminal law called a ‘shooting tragedy’, when two hunters shoot at a bush thinking there is game there, and accidentally kill a man. Since experts cannot establish who did it, they are both set free. Liability should always be personalised.
If a certain person is found guilty, if it is established that the accident occurred through his or her fault (it was a terrible accident, and I would like to once again express my condolences to the families of the victims and my solidarity with those injured – we will do everything to help them), the investigators should expose the guilty party (I already spoke to Mr Bastrykin about this yesterday) and they should be held responsible, but only those specific individuals whose fault it was.
We should not make any general statements here or use the tragedy as a PR opportunity. Here we need the professional actions and conclusions of the relevant authorities responsible for this work, its organisation and control.