Interfax: What is the outlook for Russian-Ukrainian relations after your meetings in Minsk, Moscow and St Petersburg?
Vladimir Putin: Without exaggeration, we witness and participate in not just improvement of Russian-Ukrainian relations, but in a qualitative change in the character of our relations. During the past few months after our meetings in Minsk, Moscow and St Petersburg the level of relations and the degree of trust between the two states have changed. Our relations have reached a new qualitative level in practically all areas of our cooperation. That applies to energy, as the Ukrainian President has said, and to aviation and space, science, culture and education. The unveiling of a monument to Taras Shevchenko is the best proof that our relations in the cultural field are growing. But these are just external signs of our deepening relations. I am absolutely convinced that the country with which we have so much in common in cultural and economic life, and which accounts for 40% of all our trade with the CIS countries is and will remain our main partner for a long time. And I would like to offer special thanks to the President of Ukraine, Mr Kuchma, for this latest initiative, for organising meetings between Russian and Ukrainian businessmen.
Ort: You have focused a great deal on state symbols. Today, you signed a Decree on the Russian Guard Day. Why are you so particular about this topic?
Vladimir Putin: At first glance that is not the most important thing we should concern ourselves about, but a state does not choose and use its symbols by accident. A state symbol is like air: when it is there we don’t seem to notice it. That is how it should be. But when there are no symbols you have a subconscious feeling that you live in an inferior kind of society. We have lived like that for nearly 10 years, in a temporary situation. I think this is long enough to finally realise that we must come to some agreements and compromises. I believe that a compromise has been reached. To be sure, you can’t satisfy everyone. But some day a decision on the issue had to be taken. As for the Russian guard, it is a page in our military history which we are rightly proud of. We all know that the guard is the most capable and professionally best-trained unit in the Russian army with the highest morale. It has always been the case, in the pre-revolutionary times and in the Soviet times. It is not by chance that the Soviet-era orders and medals carried only pictures while the ribbons were inherited from the Guards of pre-revolutionary times. In the past the fact was simply not mentioned, that is all. So, why shouldn’t we take the next step today? It is not by chance that the Ukrainian President has attended the exhibition. We were in one of the halls and we were shown the banner of the first army regiment to receive such a banner of the guards. It is called the Kiev Regiment. That adds to the answer to the first question. It is one more proof that Russia and Ukraine have much to unite them.
Chas Pik: As Chairman of the Committee on the Celebration of the 300th Anniversary of St Petersburg, what steps are you taking to preserve the historical and architectural landmarks, which are in a sorry state?
Vladimir Putin: Hardly a cause for joy. One can have different opinions about it. It didn’t happen by accident. In the Soviet times, as we know, all the money went to the Finance Ministry. And then the planning commissions from Leningrad tried to extract this money, and you understand what a lot of money was needed to maintain such an open-air museum as St Petersburg-Leningrad. Today the situation has changed. All the Russian regions rely mainly on their own resources. Of course, St Petersburg is short of funds to take proper care of its cultural monuments. I must stress that it is not the fault of the city’s administration. We have agreed that in time for the 300th anniversary of St Petersburg everything will be done to maintain the city infrastructure and architectural landmarks. A whole programme has been developed. We have agreed with the Governor that I will identify the most important landmarks which are of particular significance for the city. I will take them under my personal review. Such a list of landmarks is ready, and today I signed the instructions to various ministries and departments. The list includes more than 20 cultural landmarks, social and healthcare amenities and correctional facilities. I repeat, restoration and repair and in some cases the construction of these facilities will be under the President’s personal review.