Question: What is Russia’s attitude to the EU expansion and what measures can be taken to integrate Russia into the European economic space?
Vladimir Putin: At May’s Russia-EU meeting in Moscow, on Mr Prodi’s initiative, we instructed our experts to start establishing a common economic space in Europe. But we do not expect this to be a free gift for Russia. If we achieve this objective, this will impose certain obligations on Russia, and will tie our hands in deciding some questions in, say, power generation. But, on the other hand, it will give us certain advantages in other branches.
This is the kind of work that must achieve the optimum balance of interests between Russia and the other part of Europe. I am sure that if we reach this objective, then there will be gains all round. We look forward to such an understanding and support on the part of our Austrian partners.
Question: Different interpretations exist of your negotiations with US President George Bush. Hence our question: what steps do you think can be taken regarding anti-ballistic systems in order to avoid a new arms race, especially following the installation of independently targetable re-entry vehicles on ballistic missiles?
Vladimir Putin: As regards different interpretations of our dialogue with President Bush, I do not think there was anything unusual about it, although Mr Bush and I discussed the matter in the most general way. It was, I repeat, a very frank and a very well meaning conversation, which persuaded not only me, but also my colleagues that the most complex issues can be discussed with the US President.
Although our approaches differ, I repeat, we were pleased with the American mood for dialogue.
If you are interested in my meeting with the American press, where I discussed the theme you just mentioned, I can give some additional tips. Over the past few decades peace has been maintained in the world and has never once (with the exception of the Caribbean crisis) been pushed to the edge of a global disaster solely because, I repeat, a certain balance has been reached in the most sensitive area, that of nuclear security. A balance of forces and interests.
We claim that the scrapping of the 1972 ABM Treaty and establishment of a national missile defence system covering the territory of one country, the U.S. in this case, is bound to upset this balance. Any nuclear country, including Russia (especially because, as everyone knows, NATO does not invite us to join it), should think of a way to respond. How to react and how to restore the balance which will no doubt be upset because with the establishment of an NMD the qualitative state of nuclear forces – American forces in this case – will be improved. The improvement will be achieved because they will become invulnerable.
I repeat, this is not our choice. And if this happens, the question is, what shall we do? We, for one, will proceed from one well-known principle, which can be summed up as follows: efficiency plus minimum costs.
What could it be?
To begin with, I want to draw your attention to legal aspects of the matter. A large number of international security agreements, in fact more than 30 of them, are linked with the 1972 ABM Treaty. Among them are START I and START II. Incidentally, America still has not ratified START II, unlike Russia, which has.
If the 1972 ABM Treaty ceases to exist, and with it go START I and START II, then all countries, including Russia, will have the legal right to mount a multiple warhead – 3, 4, 5 and more warheads – and not one nuclear warhead, on every one of their ground-based missiles. That is the most inexpensive reply, which no one can oppose in the next 50 or perhaps 100 years.
They say the NMD is not targeted against Russia. I, too, can say that Russia’s reply, if it takes place, need not worry any one, because it will not be directed against even those who are developing the NMD.
That is, properly speaking, all that can be said. The solution lies on the surface and is perfectly understandable to specialists concerned, both legal experts and military technical personnel. And of course the world public must be informed of that. This is very important.
There can be many replies. I mentioned just one. The purpose of a missile defence system is to protect one’s territory against nuclear ballistic missiles. But there are other ways of delivering the weapons of mass destruction to the territory of a potential opponent. And specialists know them well. Our proposal is that all these questions, all these problems and all possible threats, today and in the future, should be discussed jointly, without upsetting the balance existing in the world.
It is our deeply held belief that all powers, and above all the nuclear powers, and not only they, but also our European partners, have the right to be heard. And they must be listened to during these debates, these negotiations.