Question: The two other countries, co-chairs of the Minsk OSCE Group on Karabakh settlement, the US and France, have already expressed the hope that the problem of Nagorno-Karabakh can be peacefully resolved before this year is out. Don’t you think that a similar statement by the Russian side could have a favourable impact on the process of the settlement of the Karabakh conflict?
Vladimir Putin: I do. Let me assure you that but for the consistent efforts on Russia’s part aimed at bringing about peace in the region, including the settlement of such a complicated problem as that of Karabakh, the other co-chairs would hardly have grounds for such optimistic statements. Robert Sedrakovich [Kocharyan] knows and the President of Azerbaijan knows that we have recently stepped up our mediation efforts, we are in constant contact with the leadership of Azerbaijan and the leadership of Armenia. I would hazard an opinion that this has gone a long way to make the meetings in the United States and in Europe possible.
We intend to build up our efforts. Besides, we have been and remain members of the Minsk Group and within the framework of agreed actions we intend to coordinate our efforts with all the parties involved. We are mindful of the fact that we have special relations with Azerbaijan and Armenia. We are ready to use these special relations for the benefit of all the countries in the region. But I would like to issue a warning. Without any doubt, we will not use these special relations to bring any kind of pressure on the negotiating parties. Our position is that only Armenia and only Azerbaijan can reach an agreement on the Karabakh issue, while we, together with the other members of the Minsk Group, are ready to be brokers and guarantors of the agreements.
Replying to your question, I would like to express the hope that the agreements between the leaders of Armenia and Azerbaijan and the peoples of the two countries will be achieved in the foreseeable future, the sooner the better. Russia has a vital stake in it.
Question: The joint political statement gives priority to the joint fight against international terrorism and extremism. Could you assess the magnitude of the threat for the member states of the Collective Security Treaty?
Vladimir Putin: Some countries in the zone covered by the treaty face that threat directly. They are Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Russia (in the North Caucasus). We don’t know about these problems from hearsay, but I must assure you that other member states of the treaty are facing these problems too. Let us look at just one of its aspects, drug-trafficking. Everyone in this country and abroad knows that the main source of cash for the militant groups that embrace this extremist ideology comes from the drugs trade. And drug trafficking covers the whole of Europe and North America. If drug trafficking passes through the regions that are covered by the treaty, our people, unfortunately, are victims of drug trafficking and of those who produce drugs. So we are all without exception interested in pooling our efforts in the fight against terrorism and extremism in whatever form.
Question: You developed the legal norms of the treaty at your previous meetings and now you have got down to implementing it. What do you think about the future of the treaty? Do you see it expanding?
Vladimir Putin: What I am going to say is probably not new. Russia, like other signatories to the treaty, believes that it can be invested with new content and it can develop. The first step has been made because the rapid reaction forces have been formed. The second step is creating a joint army group. But we must move towards creating a joint army group gradually and in accordance with the situation that is taking shape in each particular region. In our opinion, movement in that direction at the current stage could take the form of additional bilateral agreements between the countries – members of the treaty. Russia is ready to join these bilateral agreements, and eventually we can thus create a joint army group. That is the first substantive element of the treaty.
The second is deeper cooperation in mutual military-technical assistance. The Russian Federation is preparing a concept on this matter. Our military-technical cooperation with the treaty member countries will differ from cooperation in this sphere with other countries. But above all, it will have to do with the troops and assets that are joint troops and assets.
Question: Speaking in Yakutia, you said that Russia intended to sell gold to help flood victims. How much gold will be sold and when will it happen?
Vladimir Putin: You misquoted me. I did not say that Russia “intended to sell”, I just reacted positively to the suggestion of the republic’s leader that the so-called “gold loan” that the Republic of Yakutia got from the federal government in its time could be used as an offset, not all of it, but part of it. I said it was possible, but I didn’t say we would definitely do it. That is one thing.
And secondly, we may grant another company that is active in Yakutia producing and selling diamonds the right to sell an additional small quantity of gemstones, we are talking about $30 million. That is not a certainty, but only a possibility and only if we feel that there are no other ways of helping the flood victims and only if a clear-cut and transparent mechanism is put in place to deliver the proceeds to the actual victims. So, it is all in the process of discussion and no decision on the issue has yet been taken.