Question: Could you tell us what your conversation was about and what its main topics were? Did you discuss economic cooperation?
Vladimir Putin: Our economic cooperation has two aspects. One is Russia’s coordination of its efforts with the European Union. Britain is a major constituent part of united Europe and as such plays an important role there. Its position on very many large-scale projects is essential for us. Our bilateral economic cooperation is equally important. We know that some British firms have invested heavily in our high-profile projects, to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars. And our task, mine and Mr Blair’s, will be to help smooth the way for this business in Russia. We will work in that direction.
Question: Did you discuss defence, specifically European defence, in view of the American intention to set up a national ABM system? Do you have any concerns about this area of European cooperation?
Vladimir Putin: We discussed the missile defence issue, although not at such length as during our last meeting. Russia’s stand on the problem – preservation of the 1972 ABM Treaty – has remained unchanged. We think the collapse of the ABM Treaty could lead to a serious destabilisation of world security. But we are ready to continue talking with our American partners, to exchange information on the matter and argue our case with European negotiators. We are prepared to work together to find ways of solving the problem.
As for European security and European defence policy, we examined the issue in more detail. We follow with interest these developments in Europe. Mr Blair gave a fairly detailed account of his philosophy on the problem, which, if we understood him correctly, is that every move and step in this area in united Europe aims to preserve stability in the continent and the world. Such an approach to this very sensitive issue suits us very well, and we share the underlying principles of European development. Our only reservation is that all moves in this area should be absolutely transparent. These processes occur in Europe whether Russia wants them to or not. We are not going to either prevent or encourage these processes. But we are prepared to cooperate, above all in the information area. We consider it very useful to exchange information and coordinate our actions. We are ready and willing to do so, and that was the vein in which Mr Blair and I discussed the problem today.
Question: Are Britain and Russia planning any joint steps to combat international terrorism, especially in the Middle East?
Vladimir Putin: Our secret services are working together. On the political level, we must take measures to prevent terrorism from spreading either in Europe or the world.
Question: Was there a discussion of the presidential election in the United States? Could the delay they are having turn into a problem for international relations, or perhaps it has already become one?
Vladimir Putin: We discussed this very important question over some beer yesterday. In principle, it is, of course, an internal matter for the US. But the dollar is a world currency today. And the state of domestic politics and the economy in the US affects the entire international community. It is a complex and, I think, a unique situation. In my view, we should be tolerant and show respect for what is taking place in the US, because, despite the complexity of the situation, domestic political issues have not spilled over and have not damaged the economy. This is a sign of a certain balance between the institutions within the country.
If, however, the American people find that experience suggests that some change should be made to their electoral legislation, then I guess they will make the appropriate decisions. It is an internal matter for the US.
Question: The problems you discussed over beer yesterday were important indeed. Perhaps that meeting at the bar was a good prologue for today’s talks? Does it help to solve problems if you communicate informally?
Vladimir Putin: We in Russia have a joke: when men meet at work they discuss women, and when they meet women outside working hours they discuss work. Last night Mr Blair and I had time off, but we spoke, of course, about the same problems we took up today. I must say that my meetings and negotiations with Mr Blair have developed into informal meetings and informal conversations with a person who is well-informed, competent and pleasant in all respects. Whether this helps to solve problems or not is a question that I think is easy to answer.