Vladimir Putin: Good afternoon.
I am genuinely glad to have this opportunity to visit the Foreign Ministry and take part in your meeting today. The recent months have seen many major international events which have kept us on a very tight schedule. Our conversation today is a chance to review some results and outline the range of tasks facing us.
The new foreign policy concept just presented by the Minister formulates our national interests in the world. They are related to the tasks in the field of defense and national security, and social and economic development of Russia. Perhaps for the first time in a considerable period we have a clear-cut national security and foreign policy strategy. I think it is important that in our current work we have managed to stick to the basic concepts of foreign policy and on the whole have managed to translate them into a concerted effort of many government bodies, non-governmental organisations and the business community.
You know better than anyone that the problems Russia faces in the world today are serious and large-scale. In the context of growing globalisation, which is much discussed, our country has yet to find its place in the world. In this context our strategic course is integration into the world community, the development of a broad political dialogue and mutually beneficial cooperation with all those who are willing and ready to cooperate with us.
The foreign policy priority is to create a stable and secure situation around Russia, to create conditions that would enable us to concentrate a maximum of effort and resources on meeting the social and economic challenges facing the state.
Clearly, today the arsenal of tools that we can use to influence the international situation is objectively not so large as we would like it to be and this makes it particularly important for us to forecast in advance the developments in the main areas of our foreign policy, especially where the potential for conflict is still considerable: in the Balkans, the Middle East and some other regions of the world.
Ensuring strategic stability is a key area of diplomatic efforts. We seek stable and predictable development of international relations. The fact that Washington has put on hold the deployment of the National Missile Defense system confirms that given a focused, well-thought-out and pro-active approach, with due account of the interests of our partners, real positive results can be achieved.
And there is another point I would like to make in connection with these problems. We have ratified the START II and the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty. When I say “we,” I mean our country. Russia has done everything the international community expected it to do, I stop short of using the word “demanded”, but in any case it was pressing Russia to take that step. We have done it. Now we await reciprocal steps, and I don’t think that an overwhelming majority of countries want to see a unilateral disarmament of Russia. On the contrary, in my opinion it would cause irreparable damage to the modern architecture of international relations.
This year you will be called upon to do some complicated and delicate work with our partners to preserve the 1972 Treaty. The latest statements by the officials of the new US Administration show that the dialogue can be positive. We look forward to joint work in that field.
It is also important that we have learned to uphold our interests firmly, but without any element of confrontation. We often hesitate to confront our partners with sharp questions knowing in advance that they would find them unacceptable. It is of course necessary to know and be mindful of the others’ position, but there should be no doubt as to the main benchmark: our own national interests, provided they are well argued.
Our country faces a number of challenges. They include regional conflicts, separatism, terrorism, uncontrolled migration, organised crime and others. I would like to single out the danger of international terrorism and fundamentalism of whatever stripe. We have repeatedly referred to something that is already entering international public domain: it is obvious that a terrorist “international” is emerging. And there we should work together with our partners in a coordinated way. It is in our interests to help establish effective mechanisms of international cooperation in all these areas.
The Foreign Ministry and our missions abroad should pay more attention to economic diplomacy. On the whole there is still great untapped potential in our economic work. The central staff of the Foreign Ministry often does not have a full grasp of the trade and economic issues. Let me remind you that you have long been provided with a key instrument, the Presidential Decree on the coordinating role of the Foreign Ministry in the conduct of an integrated foreign policy. That instrument could be used much more effectively than it is today.
It is necessary to build a system of promoting and upholding our economic interests abroad to guarantee the maximum returns on the Russian economy and minimise the risks involved in our integration in the world economy. I think the Foreign Ministry should pay extra attention to supporting major foreign economic projects and tying them in with national interests. We should seek to create conditions abroad for Russian business that are at least as favourable as the conditions for foreign business in Russia. To do this we have of course to know what conditions exist in this country for foreign business. And I will speak in a minute about how our diplomatic corps is informed about the processes taking place in our own country.
Another aspect is helping our regions, in particular Siberia and the Far East, to break into world markets. By the way, this calls for especially close coordination both with the local administrations, the heads of the regions and the Plenipotentiary Representatives of the President to the Federal Districts. And I would like to note that being divorced from the problems of one’s own country can lead to fatal miscalculations.
A few words are in order about the geography of our foreign policy. Our unquestioned priority is the CIS countries. Russia, as everybody understands, is a natural nucleus of integration processes within the Commonwealth. And integration as a process is not an end in itself, we don’t need it in that capacity, we don’t need it as a slogan or a catch phrase. It should bring real benefits to our country and our citizens. This has been the keynote of the regular meetings of the Supreme Council of the Union State and the Council of CIS States. As the results of these summits have shown this approach is more effective in dialogue with our partners, not only is it acceptable to them, they are interested in it themselves.
Each time I visit Commonwealth countries I meet the representatives of the Russian-speaking community. And I must say that they have many complaints about the way we work in this sphere. It applies not only to diplomatic services. It applies to the efforts of the Government in this sphere in general, but also to the diplomatic service, both in terms of information and politics, and in terms of dealing with people. We are obviously not doing enough to protect our diaspora, to protect the Russian culture and the Russian language. The millions of people who have overnight been separated from their country are not to blame. This should be the starting premise. I am aware that working with people is taxing and calls for a lot of patience and tact. The consular service has to do a huge amount of work, and this is a feature of the activities of diplomats in the CIS countries. This work calls for professional training and certain personal qualities.
There is much work to be done in Europe, traditionally one of the most important areas of our activities. Europe today is witnessing complicated dynamic processes. European structures are being transformed and the roles of major European organisations and regional forums are changing. Our relations with the European Union are becoming more important. Of course, it is not our aim today to become a member of the EU. But we must seek to make our cooperation much more effective and improve its quality. In striking contrast to the generally favourable background, there are some problems Russia faces in the Baltics, and Central and Eastern Europe. The Foreign Ministry can do more in this direction. One example is putting our relations with Poland on an even keel. The time has come to give serious thought to rectifying the situation in some other areas.
The process of rebuilding our relations with the North Atlantic bloc has been difficult. They have been thrown back after the Balkan events and I am convinced that it was not through our fault. The quality of interaction is gradually being restored, which is welcome. NATO is a real quantity in European and world politics. If we manage to build our relations in the spirit of frankness, openness and constructive interaction it would contribute substantially to European stability and our own security. I would like to stress that it is in the interests of our states. Even so, we still consider the policy of NATO expansion to be a mistake and we openly reject it in our dialogue with the Alliance.
Asia is becoming a more and more important area. Let me say from the start that it would be wrong to measure whether we have more priorities in Europe or in Asia. We cannot afford either a Western or an Eastern tilt. The reality is that a power which occupies such a geopolitical position as Russia has national interests everywhere. We should consistently adhere to that line. We should gain a firm foothold in Asian affairs. The road to this lies through intensified participation in the main integration structures in the Asia-Pacific region and, equally important, through a sustained effort to expand friendly relations and practical cooperation with the leading Asian states, in the first place with our neighbours.
I would like to dwell on a point which, I am convinced, should be a central issue for the Foreign Ministry and diplomatic missions. I am referring to the need to contribute towards a positive perception of Russia abroad. So far the situation in this sphere is anything but favourable. I won’t expand on it, you know what is happening in this sphere better than I do. I think that some people still feel that they stand to gain from cultivating the image of a dangerous Russia, which helps them to justify their buildup of military muscle and the use of force in international affairs. But, thank God, there is a growing awareness in the world that Russia has changed in a fundamental way. And that undoubtedly has an impact on the character of international relations today. All we have to do is to make competent and skilful use of it in our work, and not just to make use of it, but to promote this awareness. Influencing public sentiment abroad is emerging as one of the most pressing and relevant foreign policy tasks. We should dramatically upgrade our work in this area. We should use all the available vehicles: appearances in the media, broader contacts among NGOs, promoting the achievements of our culture and science. It is the duty of our diplomatic missions to study public sentiments and come up with ideas and do coordination work. I would like to stress the need to work more actively with the foreign mass media. Members of the Foreign Ministry must explain the Russian position on all the issues that arise both inside and outside the country.
In conclusion I think it is important and necessary to note that during the past year we had a very tight schedule, we have in fact been catching up on lost time in working out a strategy and in practical actions in the world. Russia took part in 260 international events at the summit level alone. Diplomatic activities have helped to solve many problems which in principle should have been tackled by other quarters and other means. But we have done it with your help because other resources have proved to be insufficient. You have done very intensive, responsible and effective work. And I would like to thank you for it. Thank you.