Question: The Middle East peace process has been foundering recently. What measures do you propose and what concrete actions do you expect from Russia?
Vladimir Putin: (adding to Moshe Katsav’s answer): I have said more than once that the most important thing is to follow the principle of “do no harm”. Until recently it seemed to us that the situation in the Middle East was irreversible: so much time and effort had been devoted and so many sacrifices had been brought to the altar of creating the peace situation that it seemed irreversible. And then suddenly, as a result of a few careless actions, we found ourselves where we are today. Russia does indeed have a genuine interest in normalising the situation for at least three reasons.
First, we are not indifferent to the fate of the people who have left the Soviet Union and Russia and many of whom have found themselves at the centre of the conflict.
Second – and this is a commonplace – the region is in the immediate proximity of the Russian borders.
And thirdly, if the forces of conflict and the forces of war grow stronger and the forces of peace grow weaker it means that the organisations which have a direct influence on some Russian regions will be increasingly radicalised, and this worries us.
The process of settlement is a complicated process and of course its results depend above all on the immediate parties, Israel and Palestine. International mediation is important, but it is about supporting the process and helping the two sides to achieve a compromise. That is only possible on one condition, if the mediators command trust. And one must proceed very carefully, avoiding any pressure. We are sure that after the elections in Israel and after the US Administration is finally formed, we will be able to put together the teams that will move the Middle East settlement process forward. Today it is very important to prevent the conflict from escalating and to stop all violence and create elements of continuity. Russia will contribute to that process.
Question: Do you believe the leading powers can pool their efforts in the fight against terrorism as a global evil?
Vladimir Putin (adding to Moshe Katsav’s answer): First of all I would like to say that the way the Israeli Government and the whole society in Israel deal with terror is a good example of how policy in this sphere should be designed. And I think that policy has grown out of the decades of suffering endured by the Israeli people. In resolving political issues you can have political contacts with anyone. But there should be no negotiations with terrorists. Terrorists perceive any negotiations with them as a sign of weakness and are encouraged to try to use terror to achieve political goals. That cannot be tolerated. I think international cooperation in this sphere is a must. I think the Russian public understands that we must and will cooperate with Israel in this field. And it is no secret for the public in Israel either. The reasons for such cooperation are clear and it is justified. The international significance of terrorism was highlighted by the fact that quite recently a leader of the terrorists operating in Chechnya called publicly through the mass media for the extermination of the Jewish people.
It has to be said that cooperation between Israel and Russia in the law enforcement sphere is developing quite successfully. It goes beyond the fight against terror. It involves prevention of kidnappings, liberation of people abducted not only for political motives but for purely criminal reasons in order to obtain a ransom. Law enforcement agencies work together to prevent money laundering, the production and spread of narcotics and organised crime as a whole. We have achieved good results in this respect. Joint activities in this sphere were discussed during this visit too. I am sure these activities will continue in a positive way.
Question: If Israel comes under fire and war breaks out what will Russia do?
Vladimir Putin: I wouldn’t care to engage in this kind of surmises because such suppositions may provoke the situation. Russia will do all in its power to prevent the situation from developing in this negative way.
We are sure that our influence will be effective. Jointly with the other co-sponsor – the United States – we will prevent such a negative development, I am convinced.
Let me remind you that the Soviet Union was one of the initiators and supporters of the creation of the State of Israel. Today Russia believes that Israel is an element of stability in the Middle East, and hence in the whole world. Russia uses its good and special relationships with many Arab countries to normalise the situation in the region. I absolutely agree with my counterpart that no Arab state wants to see the crisis escalate into large-scale military actions in the broad sense of that word. And I would like to stress and to thank Mr President for his appreciation of the Russian efforts aimed at using all the tracks of the Middle East settlement. We believe that to achieve a lasting peace one should look for compromises and balanced solutions that would satisfy all the parties to this process. We have no illusions: it is a complicated process, but positive development is possible.
Question: What is your attitude to the Israelis who have come from the USSR and Russia?
Vladimir Putin: There are some things that one finds hard to forget. When I was in Israel for the first time I heard a song on local television and the radio and I asked the people who were with me what it was. They said: “It is an Israeli folk song.” I said: “No, it is a Russian folk song.” As it turned out, we were both right. This speaks volumes about the depth of relations between Israel and Russia and we cherish that. Thank you.