Question: Internal reforms, new international challenges, Russia’s role in the wider European community. After a year and a half in office, what results will you present to your G8 colleagues at the meeting in Genoa?
Vladimir Putin: Strictly speaking, presenting the results of my activities and Russia’s recent successes is not the main aim of the meeting in Genoa. But of course I am grateful to my colleagues for showing a constant interest in the problems and the development of the situation in Russia. And of course, during these talks I will brief the leaders of the seven other major industrialised powers on the economic and social development of the Russian Federation, and I have something to tell.
I am sure you know about the results of our activities over the past year, and the results are generally significant. Russia’s economic growth last year was the highest in the last 30 years. But of course it does not make us feel complacent, we are doing a great deal to modernise the Russian state in every way: in the political and in the economic spheres. The State Duma, the Russian parliament, is currently working on key legislation: solving the problems of cutting red tape in the economy and liberalising it, in short, it is tackling the issues of land, labour relations, etc. There is much to discuss there. And, I repeat, I appreciate my colleagues for showing an interest in Russia.
As we know, other issues will be at the top of the summit agenda. Russian problems are not an item on the agenda, nor are the problems of other G8 countries: Japan, France, Britain or Italy. We will discuss the problems that are of concern to the whole of humankind.
First of all, it is the problem of combating poverty. I must say that our country’s record in that field is not bad because our contribution to the support of the poorest developing countries is significant. Among the leading industrialised countries we are in fourth place in terms of easing the debt burden of the world’s poorest countries in absolute terms. And in percentage of our GDP we are in first place in terms of the contribution that Russia is making to alleviating the financial burden, the debt burden of the poorest countries.
We will discuss the fight against diseases which are worrying humankind, the fight against AIDS; the fight against tuberculosis. We will discuss alternative energy sources, an issue which is of concern to the overwhelming majority of industrial countries, including the countries of Europe. We will discuss genetic engineering, the ethical aspects of cloning human beings or tissues, and so on and so forth.
In my opinion, although the decisions of the G8 are not binding, it is an important international forum, which not only highlights the key issues that are of concern to the whole human race, but coordinates the positions of the leading industrialised countries on these problems and sends certain impulses. I think that is important.
Question: Many people oppose the processes of globalisation. What do you think about the protests against such meetings as the G8 Summit in Genoa?
Vladimir Putin: I think in democratic society any person has the right to express his opinion on various processes and various international events, including the Genoa meeting. I would not stigmatise the people who express their protest, although I think they are wrong. But in any case the expression of the protest must be within the law of the host country. And in its character and form the protest must not disrupt the life of other people or cause harm to society. If that happens it should meet with an adequate response on the part of the authorities.
Question: You have repeatedly called on the international community to cooperate in building a safer world, including on issues of disarmament. Among other things, you have invited the Europeans to find a common approach to security and a common response to the American proposal to build a “space shield”. Could you speak about Russia’s position on the issues of strategic stability and the fight against terrorism?
Vladimir Putin: Yes, these are indeed two issues to which we attach great significance. I could talk about them at great length, but I will try to be brief.
The first part of your question has to do with strategic stability. We think it is an important issue. There are grounds for raising the issue, and on that we agree with our American partners, but we believe that in creating the conditions to allow us to react to new challenges we must proceed from what humankind has achieved to date in the field of global security, and not smash the existing architecture of international security, which is extremely dangerous, in our opinion. We should only act together, without creating additional threats in the process of fighting the evil we have not yet defined.
In this connection it is extremely important, first, to jointly identify these threats and second, to determine the methods and jointly plan the actions to fight these perceived threats. This is the basis of our proposals, put to our European partners, on creating a non-strategic European antimissile defence.
What does it mean? The answer is very simple. I repeat: we should determine where these threats come from and build a joint defence system with an eye to what the experts call “missile-threatening” areas. This is the simplest, the most understandable and the most tangible thing we can discuss and meaningfully agree upon.
I think it would be wrong to discuss mythical threats that we do not yet understand. We cannot discuss them specifically and on the strength of these discussions break up what humanity has achieved in building international security up until now. That would be extremely unhelpful.
But my recent dialogue with the US President in Ljubljana shows that we can discuss even this complicated topic in a constructive manner.
As regards the fight against terror, I can say that today – and Europeans know it well too – it is deeply connected with narcotics, it is deeply connected with religious fanaticism, and very frequently with Muslim fundamentalism. These are some of the modern threats to which we must pay special attention. I very much hope that this topic will also be a subject of discussion at the meeting in Genoa and in the informal talks, and formally at one of the final sessions.
Question: Now, about the relations between Russia, the new post-communist Russia, and the European Union. What opportunities and at the same time what problems does the eastward expansion of the European Union bring and how does Russia cope with these issues?
Vladimir Putin: We have a positive attitude to the enlargement of the European Union and we believe it is a natural process. Europe is perhaps our key partner. Today 35% of our trade is with European countries, the members of the European Union, and the figure will be 50% after the potential enlargement. You understand how important it is for us.
We are not scared of this process; on the contrary, we try to look at it from a positive point of view. Of course after the inclusion of the East-European and Central-European countries – and these are our traditional partners – certain problems may arise in connection with the fact that these countries will be covered by the European Union’s agricultural policy, they will be covered by certain privileges and anti-dumping regimes, and so on and so forth. The flows of investments will be redirected. And there may be some negative consequences for Russia from EU enlargement.
Today we are conducting a constructive dialogue with our EU partners at the expert level. We hope that all our concerns will be addressed, and technically, they can all be answered, at least we at the political level hear it all the time. But I would like to believe that they will be technically solved and closed before the formal accession of new members to the European Union takes place.
But on the whole, I repeat, we see it as a positive process and we think that the pros outweigh the cons. Especially since at the last meeting with the “European troika” here in Moscow we have started joint work on creating a common economic space in Europe, including Russia, at the initiative of Mr Prodi.
I think this is a very sound idea and it could be very useful both for Russia and for the whole of Europe because it could make the European energy market more stable and predictable and it could create additional opportunities for us to promote other goods, for example, hi-tech goods. By the way, it will be the main topic at the forthcoming meeting in Brussels.
By and large we set great store by our economic ties. And to conclude my answer to this question I would like to say that we expect that the enlargement of the European Union will bring more positive results.
Question: In this context, the relations between Russia and Italy have always been seen as privileged. I know that you recently had a telephone conversation with the new Prime Minister of Italy, Silvio Berlusconi. What impressions did you get after that conversation about the personality of Silvio Berlusconi and the new government’s program?
Vladimir Putin: What impressions can you get from a five-minute telephone conversation about the personality of the prime minister of a leading European country?
I would stress another thing: I agree with you in the assessment that you gave to Russian-Italian or Italian-Russian relations as privileged. I absolutely agree with that assessment.
We respect any choice of the Italian people. Whoever is the head of Italy we will work with that person. Of course I can and must judge the new Italian Prime Minister not by a five-minute telephone conversation, but by the political principles and economic views that he proclaimed publicly during his election campaign.
We know Mr Berlusconi well. It is not the first time that he has headed the government. As you know, the Italian President Champi and his wife recently visited Russia. I very much hope that he was pleased with the hospitality he received here. I have not forgotten my visit to Italy. There is much that links us with the Italian Republic. We have good economic ties.
Last year our trade reached a record nine billion dollars. That is not bad. And it has grown this year. I think the bar will be lifted further.
Russia and Italy have long-standing cooperation in the sphere of energy, machine-building and aviation building. We are beginning to cooperate in space, in the peaceful use of outer space and so on and so forth. And I am not speaking about a certain spiritual affinity between Russia and Italy.
In general we are pleased with the high level of relations. Judging from the signals that we have been getting from the new Italian Prime Minister we are sure that these relations will have a positive impact in the future. I am scheduled to meet with Mr Berlusconi during the Genoa meeting. I think that we will not only get to know each other personally, but will agree on promoting mutual interests in bilateral contacts between Italy and Russia and coordinate our positions in the international arena.
And in conclusion I would like, through you, to offer apologies in advance to the people of Genoa for the inconvenience we will cause them, and to thank you for your interest in Russia.