President of Russia Vladimir Putin: Let us start with our Chinese friends.
Question: This past May the heads of state and government of thirty countries adopted a joint communiqué at the first Belt and Road International Economic Forum, which includes a commitment to step up cooperation. Mr President, how does Russia plan to implement those agreements together with China? Thank you.
Vladimir Putin: I have already said how, but I can repeat.
Firstly, I think the event was unique. This is the initiative of the Chinese President, our great friend, and my personal friend, Xi Jinping. The event was a success. It was a large-scale and successful event. I expect it to usher in a new stage of cooperation in Eurasia, and not only there.
The main thing for us to do is to join our efforts within the framework of the Eurasian Economic Union and China’s Silk Road initiative. Can this be done or not? I am confident it can, since even in the economic sphere – I am not even mentioning the strategic level of our partnership – we have many overlapping goals and complementary capabilities. This is why I do not have any doubt that we will work together and that this work will yield benefits for both the Chinese and Russian peoples. But not just us two, it will also impact global competitiveness.
I would like to once again thank China for arranging this work.
Question: Mr President, I came from Donbass, I was with Iosif Kobzon on his eighth visit there. People said to me, “Ask the President when he is going to take Donbass.” Because people are tired there. Three years have passed, there is still shooting going on, and people just do not know what they should do. Everything is destroyed.
Vladimir Putin: Yes, I know. This is a tragedy, and a very big one. We will do everything we can to minimise the damage there. I would like to say the following. You know our general stance but we will do everything to support the people there regardless of any external factors. However, we expect that the current authorities in Kiev have sufficient intelligence, common sense and responsibility to implement the agreements that were achieved as a result of fairly difficult work, I mean primarily the Minsk Agreements.
Remark: They are not working.
Vladimir Putin: It would be much worse without them. That much is clear. Yet we see that the problems there are not going away, and some of them are getting worse. We are going to analyse the situation to promptly adopt decisions that will adequately respond to the unfolding situation.
Question: Everyone knows that Russia maintains good relations with the Kurds in Syria and Iraq. On June 2, you met with the Prime Minister of Iraqi Kurdistan, Mr Barzani. The Kurds are still fighting terrorism. My question is, will Russia maintain relations with the Kurds after the war on terrorism ends?
Vladimir Putin: We have always maintained relations with the Kurdish people. And I see no reason for ending these contacts.
However, first we need to resolve our common problem, the one you have just mentioned – the fight against terrorism. We know, and I have already said this many times, that our position here is open. We know what a large and significant contribution the Kurdish fighters are making to the fight against terrorism. There are very capable Kurdish units and they operate very effectively.
As for broader cooperation, you have just mentioned my meeting with Mr Barzani. We are working very actively with Iraq as a whole, and these relations will develop.
We are perfectly aware of how sensitive the Kurdish question is. We formulated our position long ago. We will act and develop our position within the framework of international law.
Question: Mr President, the Russia-Japan programme for joint economic activity on the Kuril Islands is gaining momentum now. For Japan, it means the start of the process of handing over the islands. Could you tell us what this means for Russia? What is Russia’s perspective? Are you planning to visit the islands?
Vladimir Putin: Look, we proceed from the assumption that cooperative work on the islands is quite possible. Our idea is that we need to create favourable conditions for resolving our territorial issues. We do not yet know what form the final decision will take. But without creating the appropriate conditions, such as improving the atmosphere of trust, we will not be able to do anything at all.
There are issues aggravating this matter, namely, security issues, including those in this region, and Japan's commitments to its allies. These are all very delicate things that require very careful and balanced consideration and elaboration. Depending on how this work goes, final decisions will be made. It would be premature to discuss them now.
Question: Several large-scale anti-government protests took place in the past two months. Could you please say what you think about them? And do you consider Alexei Navalny, who called for these protests, your political opponent in the 2018 election?
Vladimir Putin: When I heard that you are from the BBC, I had no doubt that you would ask exactly this question because in a certain sense this is propaganda of the people you support.
Protests are always possible in the framework of democratic procedures. I believe this is a proper, good method of communicating to the government, to any government in any country, including Russia, the opinion of those people who disagree with the current government on something. That said, all forms of protest, including demonstrations, should stay within the confines of the law. By the same token, officials, government agencies and representatives of the authorities should act within the confines of the law. Those who violate the law should be responsible for these violations. That is all.
However, it is one thing to organise protests and another thing to use them to provoke and aggravate the situation as a means of self-promotion. This is what I do not welcome. I believe this is not done to improve the situation in the country or resolve some issues in society. They protest to advertise themselves rather than to solve people’s problems.
Question: Mr President, what about the sale of the RBC?
Vladimir Putin: About what?
Question: The RBC sale.
Vladimir Putin: You have already asked me this question. Question: No, I did not ask you this question. Mikhail Prokhorov is going to sell the RBC to Grigory Beryozkin shortly. Have you discussed this deal with any of its participants?
Vladimir Putin: No, I have not.
Question: Have you met with Mikhail Prokhorov recently?
Vladimir Putin: No, I have not discussed this deal with anyone and I have not yet met with Mikhail Prokhorov. I can imagine that such a meeting may take place.
Question: What could you say about the information that this deal is a result of pressure exerted by the authorities on the current owner or a consequence of your personal discontent with the RBC’s editorial policy?
Vladimir Putin: I have nothing to say on that. I believe that such media as the RBC are required. To be honest, I sometimes also watch it. I consider the information presented on the screen useful. I like it. As for pressure, I do not know anything about it. As for Mikhail Prokhorov, I will probably see him. I know him well. But I have not yet met with anyone or discussed this with anyone.
Question: without microphone.
Vladimir Putin: When I hear this, I look at what is going on in other countries. And there – you are welcome, we know how political processes go and we know the political old timers. Generally speaking, this is okay if it stays within the framework of democratic procedure, within the bounds of existing laws. In this regard, nobody violates the law here.
Question: During Direct Line today you were asked about Kirill Serebrennikov. Mr Uchitel asked you a question but you did not respond.
Vladimir Putin: I somehow missed it, I am sorry. Did he ask about Serebrennikov?
Question: Yes, he did – both Bezrukov and Uchitel asked what you thought about the forceful actions at the Gogol Centre and whom you meant when you said “fools.” Because in your conversation with Mironov about State Awards, as it was subsequently reported, you said, “fools.”
Vladimir Putin: I do not remember what I said when that letter was handed over. I really read the letter. I do not remember the context or whom the “fools” referred to, although I think I have some idea. Let me see.
Evidently, it was about the fact that a search was conducted and documents were seized with the involvement of law enforcement but I do not think that was wise because there is absolutely no need to show up at a theatre or accounts department with a security detail. That is simply preposterous.
Although I should tell you that this was not targeted at a particular theatre or Serebennikov personally. Security details are used in our country at the drop of a hat, even where it is absolutely uncalled for. I will not go into detail now. This is done even in the course of investigations in defence, security or intelligence agencies themselves. That is also unnecessary. You know, officers will obey any order. It makes no sense. It made no sense here, either.
As for Serebrennikov, I have not met him, unlike, say, Alexei Uchitel. At any rate, I have not spoken to him face to face. As you know, he carried out many projects with state financial support. In other words – I am not passing judgment on his creative activity; I am absolutely not prepared for that – but as you know, there have been no and there are no restrictions regarding his creative activity, because he was simply given state money. However, if somebody receives money from the state, the state should be certain that this money is spent properly, in accordance with law. There was concern about financial irregularities. That is all – there was nothing else there. However, only court – after a preliminary investigation – can make the final decision as to whether somebody is guilty or not.
This is all I can say now.