Cuban Television: Mr Putin, first of all I would like to say what an honour it is for us to meet with you. Thank you for kindly agreeing to give this interview. You are doing it in spite of being busy and having an intensive work schedule. We hope it will be an interesting interview.
Let us now pass on to questions and answers.
Vladimir Putin: You are welcome.
Question: You will be the first Russian President to visit Cuba and Latin America. We would like to hear your views on the development of relations between Russia and Cuba, particularly in the economic sphere.
Vladimir Putin: Cuba is our traditional, long-time and reliable partner. There was a time when relations with Cuba were totally ideological. Ideology underpinned the relations between our states. After the events in the Soviet Union, in Russia 10 years ago, unfortunately, after much of the ideological basis of our relations was lost, the relations between our states were damaged. And it spilled over into the sphere of interstate relations.
I don’t think that was the right thing to do. Cuba, I repeat, is our traditional partner in the world, in the first place, of course, in Latin America. Russia is paying more and more attention to its Latin America policy. Cuba’s role is very important for us because its position has always been independent and interesting, and has always contributed to promoting democratic principles in international relations.
It has to be said that in recent years, which saw a decline in our economic relations, many priority areas of joint activities have unfortunately disappeared and the place of Russian companies has been taken over by our foreign rivals.
Canadian companies and businesses from France, Spain and more recently Germany are very active in the Cuban market. And it is heartening that in 1999 our mutual trade reached what to us is a significant level of $1 billion, and in the first 10 months of this year it has already amounted to $700 million. That is a good indicator and it shows that both sides are positive in developing economic contacts. We have every reason to believe that our cooperation in the economic field will develop in the same way and at the same rate in the future.
Question: What are the main reasons for the fact that in recent years Russia has tended to draw closer to Cuba in various areas, including bilateral economic and other relations?
Vladimir Putin: I have already said that unfortunately our place has to a large extent been occupied by businesses from other countries. But there is one obvious circumstance which Cuba and Russia must take full advantage of.
Many companies and a large part of the Cuban economy were created with direct economic and technical assistance of the Soviet Union. And who else but us should take part in the reconstruction of these companies and jointly plan their future? I am absolutely convinced that significant results can be achieved by following that path.
Question: The UN General Assembly recently passed by a huge majority of 167 votes, including Russia’s vote, a resolution condemning the US blockade of Cuba.
Do you believe that Russia as a permanent member of the UN Security Council could propose a similar resolution at the Security Council so that the blockade of Cuba is lifted?
Vladimir Putin: While there has been some decline in the economic field (which was, by the way, caused by negative trends in the Russian economy), our position on the issue of the blockade of Cuba has always been consistent and principled.
We believe and we still maintain that the blockade of Cuba has no justification, not in terms of international law, not in terms of expediency, and not in terms of justice and democratic principles of world order. Not only have we backed the UN resolution, we are going to continue to promote that point of view.
We believe that uni-lateral sanctions against Cuba should be lifted as quickly as possible. I don’t think such a policy has any chance of success or will bring any political or economic dividends to anyone.
Question: You recently sent greetings to the 10th Ibero-American Meeting in Panama. You called on Latin American countries to lend a more social character to globalisation in the world. Our country largely shares that position.
Could you say in what other areas of international life and international politics can Russia and Cuba have similar positions?
Vladimir Putin: First, on the problems of globalisation. We absolutely agree with the view of President Fidel Castro that the processes of globalisation should take into account the present world order, which is not, to put it mildly, quite just. The processes of globalisation should not perpetuate the current state of poverty of some states and excessive wealth of other countries.
By the way, this position is shared by many in Western countries as well because the gap in wealth is the cause of instability in the world.
As for other aspects and issues on which Cuba and Russia could hold similar positions and on which we could back each other, they include the problem of disarmament, the problems of the democratic world order and arms control problems.
Cuba plays a very important role in Latin America. And we count on Cuba’s active role and active position on a whole range of international problems on which we have to look for allies. Cuba’s active position on these issues, including the problems of security, can be very useful and very constructive.
Question: Mr Putin, do you believe that Russia has achieved social stability? Do you believe that Russia has achieved a healthy economy?
Vladimir Putin: There are signs of stabilisation in the social sphere and in the economic sphere. But we cannot claim that we have achieved a satisfactory situation.
A lot has yet to be done to consolidate society. A great deal needs to be done before positive trends in the economy – and they are undeniably there – acquire a stable character. The Government, the President, the State Duma and the whole Federal Assembly have to do a great deal to create the necessary legal framework and the necessary social conditions for carrying out the tasks facing the state.
Question: Russia is a key factor of international stability. How will you go about ensuring the stability considering that the United States is harbouring plans to create a national missile defence system?
Vladimir Putin: A new administration is being formed in the United States. And we wouldn’t like to suspect our American partners a priori of an intent to behave in a destructive manner and take things as far as demolishing the existing system of international security.
We very much hope that the new American Administration, whoever heads it, will take on board all the positive achievements of the Russian-American relations over the past years, including in the sphere of international security and arms control.
Our position is well known. We favour the preservation of the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty of 1972. Our position on the issue has not changed.
We still insist that this system of international security has an intrinsic value. And if some countries or groups of countries are concerned about their individual security, all these problems can be solved without destroying the existing basis through international consultations and agreed international decisions. Such decisions exist. They can be finalised in political terms and in military-technical terms.
Question: Mr Putin, in some political circles in Russia you are thought to be a left-leaning leader. Others consider you to be a right-wing leader. How do you describe yourself? And in general if I could ask you this question: which way is Russia moving?
Vladimir Putin: As for what various people think about who I am and what I am, the Russians have a saying: “You can call me a pot as long as you don’t put me in the oven.” I think it is not by chance that left-wing political leaders today come out for market reforms. And the advocates of the liberal economy support the President’s measures aimed at strengthening the Russian state. This is not accidental. Because over a number of years it has become evident that one cannot exist without the other.
So I think the pragmatic approach oriented towards the interests of the overwhelming majority of the population is the right approach today. Through market reform and the broadest democracy in the direct meaning of that word, I am sure that Russia, the new Russia, can achieve the goals that we have set ourselves for a number of years.
My position on these conceptual issues of state development is set down in the State of the Nation Address to the Federal Assembly. And judging from what has been happening in our economy in the last year and a half, one has to agree that the goals and tasks set before the country, not only by the President, but by other political leaders, are well grounded.
Question: When the Cuban Revolution happened you, Mr Putin, were at school and you surely have heard a lot about our revolution in Cuba. With a few hours to go before the start of your official visit to Cuba, could you say how you see Cuba?
Vladimir Putin: When the revolution took place in Cuba I hadn’t started school yet. But I remember that time very well. Those were memorable events in the life of your country and indeed in the life of my country. Cuba was always thought of a something very distant and heroic.
We were all impressed by the courage of the Cuban people, their commitment to achieving results and solving ambitious tasks. What was particularly amazing and still is amazing is how the Cuban people manage to solve many of these problems in spite of the difficult situation in which Cuba has found itself.
So I was glad to accept the invitation from President Castro to visit your country and I will do it with pleasure.
Cuban Television: At the start of the interview I said I hoped it would be interesting. To make it truly interesting we would like to give Svetlana Kolosova a chance to ask you an interesting question.
Vladimir Putin: Go ahead.
Question: Mr Putin, in the past 10 years Russian diplomacy and the Russian leadership have somewhat neglected not only Cuba but the whole region of Latin America. Contacts were maintained mainly at the parliamentary level.
Can your visit to Cuba be seen as marking a new stage in Russia’s attitude to the whole region and as a sign of new trends in your foreign policy? After all, Latin America is a centre of the emerging multi-polar world.
Vladimir Putin: Yes, I agree with you.
Of course, Latin America is a centre of the new world which is emerging and rapidly developing. It is a very active part of the world. I think there is an explanation why Russia has not paid due attention to this area in its foreign policy in recent years. It has to do with the social, economic and domestic problems in Russia. An old Russian proverb comes to mind: “Things may be cheap overseas, but bringing them home is expensive.” So, it is clear why there was a certain decline.
But obviously, the time has come not just to renew our interest in that region of the world but to restore our positions there, because it meets our economic interests, it meets the national interests of the Russian Federation. It will strengthen Russia’s international position.
Many countries in the region would like Russia to pursue an active foreign policy. They want to cooperate with us in achieving common goals in the international arena. And it is reasonable and practicable that economic normalisation is accompanied by increased Russian foreign economic activity.
Question: So in fact, it attests that the country is growing stronger.
Vladimir Putin: Yes, of course. And not only politically but also economically. We have already discussed with your Cuban colleagues that even in Cuba – I say “even” because it has been our closest partner and closest ally for many years, and much of the Cuban economy was built with Soviet technical and economic assistance – even in Cuba, let alone other Latin American countries, other countries have outstripped us. Canadians occupy up to 80% of certain sectors of the Cuban economy. So it is not surprising, one can merely regret that we are doing it today and not two, three, four or five years ago.
Cuban Television: Mr Putin, during the course of this interview we have touched upon issues of bilateral relations and also some important international topics.
We think it was a very interesting interview. And we, representatives of the Cuban media, my colleague from Prensa Latina and I, are grateful to you. The interview has indeed cleared up many questions connected with Russian-Cuban relations.
We look forward to your visit to Cuba. We wish you all the best. And thank you for kindly agreeing to give this interview.
Vladimir Putin: I would also like to thank you, your colleague and all the Cuban people for the interest in our country.