Question: When we asked you for an interview, we couldn’t have foreseen the events that have taken place in America. The whole world is talking about it. People in America and Europe seem to be more excited about it than in your country. You are very familiar with the issue and you have offered your help to the Americans. While they describe terrorism and bin Laden as the enemies of the whole world, what concrete assistance can you offer them?
Vladimir Putin: I think it depends on what the United States needs. They must tell us what kind of help and support they want from us, and we for our part should think it through and make the right decision. But I can say even now that we are ready to cooperate in the broadest sense of the word and in very many areas.
You have rightly pointed out that up until now Russia has confronted international terrorism practically single-handed, and unfortunately, we have some negative experience of that struggle. We have suffered much loss of life in Moscow, as you know, and in other Russian cities, we have encountered very brutal manifestations of terrorism, many people died as a result of explosions of residential houses. Of course, we have considerable experience in dealing with such problems. But one thing I am absolutely convinced of: we won’t be able to conquer that evil unless we combine our efforts. We must not allow extremists of every hue and every stripe and terrorism, the ultimate form of extremism, to take advantage of differences between our opinions and our misunderstanding of each other. We must create a single and solid front against terror. If we do so, I have absolutely no doubt that we will meet with success.
Question: The question arises: what are the goals of that struggle? This is not about fighting some country or some Government, this is about individuals and non-state entities, for example, Osama bin Laden. You too once referred to him as being suspect of complicity in the Chechen events. Do you see any connection here? Do you believe there is a link between terrorists in Chechnya and Afghanistan?
Vladimir Putin: If you look at my public statements, I spoke about the so-called “terrorist international” a year ago. It was a year ago. Nobody should pretend that this scourge will not touch him. So, realising the threat today, we should coordinate our actions in every area. First of all, we should cut the channels of financing and we should influence the Governments of all countries so as to set a barrier to the activities of terrorist organisations on their territories. No matter how hard it may be on the Governments of these countries, we should exact from them compliance with these obligations and induce them to assume these obligations and honour them.
Fundamentalist organisations are all but openly acting in some Eastern countries. In some European countries volunteers to fight against Russia in the North Caucasus were to all intents and purposes openly recruited. Today the same people are recruiting volunteers for a possible war in Afghanistan and other parts of the world.
Of course, any Government needs political courage and decisive actions in order to stop these activities. It will probably exact a political cost, but it has to be done, and it has to be done immediately. Of course, we could all together, in the framework of the G8 or the Security Council, think about a set of political, educational and economic measures to deprive extremist organisations of their base of support and, on the other hand, to offer help and support to those elements within Islamic groups and Islamic organisations which oppose terror as a means of achieving political goals. What we should certainly prevent is the creation of quasi-state entities where people are acting out of control. We should not allow any political or power vacuum in any region of the world, especially in Europe.
You have asked me about our experience. We had such negative experience when Russia totally withdrew from Chechnya in 1996, it pulled out all its troops, all its armed units, its entire police; it dismantled everything. The result was a vacuum and an enclave where bandits held sway. In fact we left the Chechen people at the mercy of the militants and allowed them to be humiliated by them. The vacuum was promptly filled by organisations preaching fundamentalist ideology and fundamentalists from various armed groups in the Middle East and other countries. Eventually it created the grave situation we have been trying to bring under control in Chechnya for a year and a half now.
In this connection I am greatly worried about the situation in Kosovo and Macedonia. We have effectively squeezed Yugoslavia out of Kosovo. The 300,000 refugees who have left Kosovo have not come back. 300,000. Today we say that we do not recognise the independence of Kosovo, and rightly so. But who is responsible for the current state of affairs in Kosovo? Is it NATO, the EU or perhaps the OSCE or the UN? It is precisely because there are no entities responsible for the situation in Kosovo that we see gunmen freely moving from Kosovo to Macedonia and destabilising the neighbouring country. It is happening before our eyes.
By preventing Yugoslavia from pursuing any national internal policy and squeezing it out, the Western community, the European community, has assumed responsibility for the situation in Kosovo. Let us ask Europe whether it is ready to assume this responsibility? I am afraid lest we repeat similar mistakes in Macedonia; that must not be allowed to happen. No matter how events develop in Macedonia, we should not allow an enclave to appear there that is not controlled by the country’s central authorities.
This is what our experience prompts us to conclude.
Question: In your answer you have touched upon many interesting issues. And this leads me to ask you some questions by way of clarification. You spoke of the need to cut the channels of financing. What exactly did you mean? You referred to the recruitment of mercenaries. Can you name the countries or the people involved in this?
Vladimir Putin: There is a centre in London for the recruitment of those who want to fight in Chechnya. Today they speak unofficially, but openly to all intents and purposes, about recruiting volunteers to be sent to Afghanistan. This is well known, the mass media have reported it. And there are many such centres in Western Europe. But we should not allow this situation. You know, when an ostrich is in danger, it buries its head in the sand believing that the rest of its body is invisible too. But that is not so.
Question: About joint actions and mutual understanding. There is a wide-scale discussion in the West today. Was it a failure on the part of the special services? Is it true that they didn’t know anything?
You are a statesman who is very familiar with the activities of the special services. And you have already told us that you warned about the existence of a terrorist international organization about a year ago. Did you know more than the Americans? You didn’t tell them or is it that they didn’t hear you? Or was it the case that your special services didn’t know anything about it either?
Vladimir Putin: You know what we lack at present? An awareness of how much the world has changed. I think our special services too have a good many people who still embrace the old system of priorities. The same is true of Western special services; they are still battling the Soviet Union without noticing that it no longer exists. I sometimes get the impression that it is not because they are so stupid, but because they have to get their salaries and support their families, and they can’t do anything else except battling the Soviet Union. So they pretend that nothing has changed and that it is business as usual. And there are such misguided individuals in the foreign policy establishments both in our country and in Western countries. So, when the other side sends them some materials and so on, they don’t know what to do with them: they toy with them and look at them and then throw them in the dustbin.
I very much hope that the recent tragic events will confirm the need to pool efforts, to trust each other more and will not just encourage but will definitely bring about a drastic change in the joint work in this sphere.
Question: Let me put the same question in a slightly different way. If your special services had any information, they would probably have told their President. But would they have passed that information to the American special services, that is, to another country? Or was it the case that they passed the information, but nobody listened?
Vladimir Putin: I wouldn’t like my answer to sound as if I were accusing any of our partners of not paying due attention to the materials we handed over to them. And we have transferred materials. This is not the time to exchange recriminations. We should assess the situation, cast aside all prejudice and, I repeat, pool our efforts in the fight against terror and other manifestations of extremism. We are ready for it.
Question: Are concrete negotiations on the matter already underway?
Vladimir Putin: Yes, they are.
Question: Do you think things will speed up now?
Vladimir Putin: I think so. Concrete negotiations are underway, contacts are taking place and work is being done. I hope it will yield positive results.
Question: Your huge Russian land also faces the problem of many nationalities, including Muslims, throughout the Eurasian space. And you have to deal with the problem of holding this space together, enlisting the support of peaceful and friendly Muslims and separating them from the fundamentalists, and even persecuting the latter if they are terrorists. How will you go about achieving that goal?
Vladimir Putin: As you know, I recently met with the Israeli Prime Minister, we discussed the situation in the Middle East and naturally we compared it to the situation in some parts of Russia. I must say that our situation is very special. What makes the Russian situation special is that over the centuries the two cultures – Christian and Islamic – have coexisted quite peacefully and mechanisms for cooperation have been in place over a long period of time. Russia possesses unique experience, not only of its recent fight against terrorism, but unique humanitarian experience of the coexistence of two great cultures and religions. It is a natural symbiosis which few other places in the world have.
An important foundation of such a positive symbiosis is the unconditional recognition by one people of the legitimate rights of another people. It wouldn’t occur to anyone in this country to claim that the people of a small republic and a small national entity have no legitimate rights, say, to the territory where they live or have no right to practice their religion or no right to have some other demands met. It wouldn’t occur to anyone to claim that any people can be deprived of its homeland. I would like to point out that neighbours always perceive a people living on its territory as the territory belonging to that particular people. It is deeply ingrained in the minds of all the people who live side by side.
Take even the grave example of Chechnya. Of course, we faced a hard situation, we had to use our armed forces and we did it to prevent the suffering of civilians. We haven’t managed to do everything we should have done. But the Chechen civilians, those who fled their homes, did not go abroad, as it happened in other regions, including the Balkans, nobody is driving them out of their native place, it doesn’t occur to anyone that Chechens should be driven out of their native territory. And they are not fleeing abroad, they are all in the neighbouring regions inside the Russian Federation.
We have a very curious situation even in other former republics of the Soviet Union: a lot of people, and not only Russians, have moved to Russia from the Muslim republics and from the Christian republics. For example, around half a million people have moved to Russia from Azerbaijan and to all intents and purposes they live here. About a million Azeris, and yet it is a Muslim republic. We have about 2 million Armenians living in Russia, as many, if not more, than in Armenia itself. Almost a million people, even more, have moved from Georgia. This is not accidental. It is because the moral atmosphere in Russia is favourable for people from different cultures and different religions.
Question: You have described in vivid terms the mutual tolerance of various religions and groups of the population in your country. My question is whether the latest success of the terrorists will give you grounds to fear that the terrorists will now try to win over a growing number of young people to continue their fanatical actions?
Vladimir Putin: You know what was happening and is still happening in the North Caucasus? When a certain ideological, religious, legal and power vacuum was created there after Russia pulled out, it was quickly filled with fundamentalist ideas. In general, it was not characteristic of the kind of Islam that has thrived on Russian soil for centuries. And it was in fact one of the main things that helped us to solve the problem of Chechnya. First, because fundamentalists, under the cover of the fight for the independence of Chechnya, started implementing their plans that had nothing to do with the independence of Chechnya: they launched an attack on the neighbouring Republic of Dagestan. And, of course, the people in Chechnya understand that this has nothing in common with the problem of Chechen independence. That’s one thing.
Secondly, and very importantly, the ideological aggression of extreme Islamism, extremist manifestations of Islam has met with resentment on the part of traditional leaders of Islam, which has been cultivated in the North Caucasus for centuries. This was one of the reasons why the Muslims of Dagestan put up an armed resistance to aggressors in 1999 when they attacked Dagestan.
Inside Chechnya, the representatives of traditional Islam are today attacked by religious extremists, they are simply killed. And we bear a big share of the blame for it. I feel an immense sense of guilt for not being able to effectively protect the civilians and representatives of traditional Islam against the terrorist attacks by fundamentalists.
But we will do it.
Question: You have mentioned explosions in Moscow and in the Caucasus in 1999. How do you assess the current security situation in Russia? Or do you believe that the fundamentalists and extremists target only the US?
Vladimir Putin: You know, when I spoke about political responsibility and determination to fight terror, I meant that all the problems cannot be solved overnight. And we should prepare ourselves for joint, difficult and responsible work. By staging such acts terrorists seek to create a certain effect: they try to cause panic among the population, cause the people who have been attacked by terrorists to mistrust the political leadership of their country, to cause internal political problems and conflicts.
We should give no quarter to the terrorists. We should understand that the fight against terror is a complicated and dangerous thing, and will probably call for sacrifice. We cannot avoid having victims. But if we cave in and get scared today, if we yield to the terrorists, their demands will increase many times over and as a result there will be many times more victims.
So I think it is our duty today to display solidarity with the American people, to support the President of the United States, to demonstrate to the American people that we support them and that we support the actions of the American President.
Question: But surely, solidarity will not go as far as agreeing to join American military actions?
Vladimir Putin: Nobody has asked us about it. We cannot be more Catholic than the Pope. But we are ready to work together.
Question: And if you are asked to?
Vladimir Putin: We will see what exactly they would be asking us to do, at what time, on what scale, etc. We are already fighting international terror on one front. I don’t think fighting on two or three fronts is the best idea. Germany knows it only too well.
But if our partners really want to work together with Russia and fight terrorism together, and not just to use Russia, then we are ready for it. But in that case we should fight together on the front where Russia is fighting alone today. In that case we are ready to consider taking part in other areas of the fight against terror.
Question: The second front is Afghanistan. The whole world is looking at Afghanistan. Perhaps you will now give greater support to the forces of the North? Unfortunately, the leader of these forces recently died in a terrorist attack while giving an interview. The Taliban Government says that if it is recognised by the international community and if it is not rejected, it might consider turning over Osama bin Laden. Can such assurances be believed?
Vladimir Putin: You can try to believe them. (Laughter.)
Question: In fact, the Americans tried to do it. But they now have a very special experience of dealing with the Taliban leadership. It would be a second front. And if you think that the Americans will help you in Chechnya, that too would be a second front. In Afghanistan, you close in on the Taliban from the north, the Americans from Pakistan in order to zero in on the number one terrorist, bin Laden, if indeed he is that.
Vladimir Putin: Have you seen world television channels showing what is happening in Pakistan? We need to realise that complicated processes are happening in this world. And we should support the Governments of those countries that are really joining the international community in the fight against terror. But we should only support those Governments that really want to do it. It is no easy task, and we should support them in tackling that difficult task, and not just support them because we like them. We should proceed warily and we should choose our words carefully not to provoke them. In any case, it is an area where you often have to talk less and do more. We are ready for it.
Question: If the US launches air raids on Afghanistan – at least they seem to be contemplating such raids now – would it create a dangerous situation for Russia because you have the Central Asian region on your southern borders and the main flood of refugees would head for that region? Besides, Russian troops are stationed in Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.
Vladimir Putin: We have no troops in Uzbekistan. Yes, we have the 201st division and border troops in Tajikistan. They are on high alert. But what worries us above all is of course the number of refugees who may flood Tajikistan and other Central Asian republics and destabilise the internal situation there.
As for possible military actions by the United States we hope that we will be apprised of such actions and the target of these actions and will get other relevant operational information. So far we do not have such information, so, we will not comment on it.
Question: Earlier you mentioned the Israeli Prime Minister. Don’t you think it would be logical if Russia played a more active role of broker in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and became more closely involved?
Vladimir Putin: I have already said that we are ready to contribute to the settlement of that complicated problem to the extent that the parties to the conflict welcome our participation.
We have no problem with recognising an independent Palestinian state. In fact, the previous Russian Administration has done so. We are not renouncing that position. We think that a settlement must take into account the legitimate interests both of the Palestinian and the Israeli peoples. We welcome the decision of President Arafat on a uni-lateral ceasefire and we believe that the reaction of the Israeli Government is optimal and adequate. And we very much hope that the emerging situation provides a good basis for a positive development of the process.
Russia has traditionally had friendly relations with many Arab countries and with Palestine. That’s on the one hand.
On the other and, many people from the former Soviet Union and Russia live in Israel and many of them have found themselves on the cutting edge of the confrontation. We are not indifferent to their fate. They account for almost a third of Israel’s population. Many of them speak the Russian language and are proponents of Russian culture. That is a bridge between Russia and Israel. And we understand that all the positive experience accumulated over the years in the relations between Russia and the Arab countries and what has recently emerged between Russia and Israel, all that positive experience can be used to resolve this complicated situation. We are ready to put it at the disposal of the negotiating parties.
Question: When you speak about Russia’s role in the Middle East, I would like to revisit the problem we have already mentioned, the Balkans with their numerous crisis spots. You have said that Europe should assume greater responsibility, but Russia is also part of Europe. Does it mean that you too want to assume a bigger share of responsibility in the Balkans? Perhaps Russia could contribute its troops to the stabilisation contingent in Macedonia? Or do you think it is still not enough and that these are just isolated measures that cannot resolve the crisis as a whole?
Vladimir Putin: First, it seems to me that if we unite our efforts, we will be able to solve just about any problem. In fact, judging from the wording of your questions, I think that I should structure my public statements during my visit to Germany in a certain way. Because you are raising fundamental issues, and I see that they interest not only you personally, but the readers and the public in Germany.
As for the actual situation in the Balkans, we are ready to work more closely, but we should coordinate our positions and find solutions that are acceptable for all. And if they are acceptable for all they will be more viable.
We have discussed this problem with the Chancellor many times. I last discussed it personally with him in Genoa [at the G8 Summit] and we spoke about it several times over the telephone, twice during the past week. I must say that our opinions and those of the German leadership are almost identical. Our experts are now discussing these problems. I hope that some common agreements will emerge.
Question: With you permission, one more question on this topic. There is constant talk about a possible conference on the Balkans and the whole region to discuss the problems of the region as a whole. Are you supportive of such a conference?
Vladimir Putin: Yes, I think it would be very important. We should set down two fundamental principles: first, the absolute inviolability of borders, and second, the responsibility of states for the situation on their territory. We should ensure that the legitimate Governments are able to operate on their territories and demand that these legitimate Governments respect the human rights and international conventions and other international legal norms and moral values of civilised society, but we should demand from them compliance with the obligations they assume.
I think such a conference, at which the participants would confirm their obligations to comply with their rules and the inviolability of borders would be a substantial factor for stability of the Balkans.
Question: Your visit to Germany begins next Tuesday. There were rumours in Germany that the visit might be cancelled because of the events in the US. Many events and visits are being cancelled in Germany, and there is even a debate as to whether or not to hold the Oktoberfest festival in Munich, partly for moral reasons and partly for security reasons. What do you think about such a reaction?
Vladimir Putin: You know, I don’t think it is right to put off the visit and cancel any events in connection with an upsurge of international terror. First, we must not be afraid of terrorists, they should be afraid of us. But we must not behave heedlessly, we must get our experts to work more effectively to ensure the security of civilians and of international events. That was the second point.
Now for the third point. I think that under the circumstances we should, on the contrary, strengthen our unity and that requires contacts. The best way is personal contacts between the leaders of states. So I look forward to my meeting with the German Chancellor. Germany is one of our key partners in the world and especially in Europe, and it is very important for me to meet with him and personally discuss the situation that has emerged in the world in the wake of the international terrorist attack on the United States.
Question: You had a telephone conversation with Gerhard Schroeder immediately after the terrorist attack. Rumour has it that you are planning something together. Can we expect any joint initiatives?
Vladimir Putin: Yes, the Chancellor has proposed some actions at the summit level, and I absolutely agree with him. We will discuss with him what we can realistically do together. I think what the Chancellor has proposed is highly relevant and may have a positive effect.
As for cooperation in the fight against terror, I can say that I see the contacts between our special services as more effective than with any other Western special services. At any rate, from my information, I can say that the people who work there have a very sound and professional grasp of the situation and in general experts in this sphere have very good contacts, mutual contacts, mutual understanding and a high degree of trust.
As far as I remember – I have no time to follow everything that happens in the world, in Europe and in Germany – but I think some German special services officials have come in for criticism in the Bundestag. I think today these critics must admit that the representatives of the German special services were right. But this is not to say that we should not heed criticism, we stand to benefit from it too.
Question: Economy is naturally a very important issue. How strong is the currency? What is the level of taxes? What is the capital flight situation? Many people who contemplate investing in Russia look forward to your visit and expect you to reassure them that it is safe to invest in your country.
Vladimir Putin: As for the possibilities of investment, the investment climate is linked to very many factors. You will know that after the start of military actions in Yugoslavia a lot of capital fled Europe, they put the figure at about $400 billion. And the value of the euro dropped by 10%. There is the result of destabilisation in Europe: money flees unstable regions.
As for Russia, we have yet to do a lot for investors to feel comfortable here. But we understand what needs to be done and we are working in this direction. First of all, we must achieve a measure of stability, political stability. As we see it, in spite of what is happening on the periphery of the Russian Federation, notably in the Caucasus, political stability exists in society, I can say it with absolute confidence.
We have introduced large-scale changes in our legislation, the changes that have been mooted over the past decade, but which have been made only in the last year and a half. That truly signifies movement towards modernising the economy. In effect we have made revolutionary decisions in the sphere of taxation, we have dramatically liberalised taxation and we intend to move forward in this direction. We will continue to implement the plans for economic restructuring. Among other things, we will adjust the big monopolies to the requirements of the day, the requirements of the market economy.
We are planning major transformations of the judiciary system, which should provide a good basis for a more favourable business environment and for a sound investment policy. We hope that it will become very real for investors, both ours and foreign, who will feel better protected. To pursue a good investment policy and to create a good climate it is necessary to conduct a balanced and sound social policy. As you know, real incomes in this country have grown by more than 9% during the past year. And that of course creates a certain atmosphere in society, among the population, contributes to the credibility of the administration and enables us to pursue further reform. In the social sphere we are planning some major steps, for example, a pension reform. I am aware that this is also a much discussed issue in Germany.
We are going to introduce a land reform, which will also create a good economic and legal basis for the investment process. We are planning to adopt a new Labour Code that will regulate the relations between the employees and employers in a modern way.
We are completing the draft of a new Customs Code and next in line are transformations in the financial system and in the banking system. All that taken together – and only taken together – can create a favourable investment climate. We hope to achieve positive results there.
Question: When you come to Germany, the Deutsche mark will be “living out” its last months. Euro coins and notes will be introduced in January. Do you believe that in Russia, too, the euro can make inroads on the dollar, which is the dominant currency at present?
Vladimir Putin: We did not create the current position of the dollar. This was a given to all of us. I am sure that we should not discuss the problem of the stability of the dollar today because one of the goals of international terrorists has been to undermine confidence in the US economy. And it is one of the underpinnings of the world economy on which the well-being both of Russia and Europe depends. We should take a very balanced view of this. The basic indicators of the American economy have shown that no terrorist attacks, even such brutal ones as have been launched against America, can shake these foundations.
But Europe and Russia are not just geographical notions, and in geographical terms we know that Europe reaches as far as the Urals. So if we describe as European the territories in which the European culture predominates, Europe actually stretches from the Atlantic to the Pacific.
Europe is our biggest economic partner. The European countries account for 35% of foreign trade. After the enlargement of Europe it will be 40%-45%. So we cannot and do not want to be left out of the processes taking place in Europe, including in the currency regulation sphere. The euro, of course, will occupy its due place in Russia as a reserve currency.
Our Central Bank is actively working with its European colleagues, and we count on the support and fruitful contribution of the European Central Bank.
Question: I would like to ask you a question that German businessmen often put to me. They welcome a drastic cut in taxes, but they wonder whether the new tax rate will hold long enough.
Vladimir Putin: No doubt about it. If anyone might have had any doubts, they can cast all these doubts aside, and I’ll tell you why. When we introduced the flat 13% income tax rate and when we discussed its introduction there was a heated debate and criticism, including criticism targeted at me. But at the time we hoped that it would encourage part of our economy to come out of the shadow and increase budget revenues, and thus help to tackle social problems, especially problems of the low-paid social strata. Criticism came from the left-wing parties, which said it was unfair to levy a 13% tax on both people with low incomes and the still thin stratum of wealthy people in Russia. But, I repeat, we expected it to increase budget revenues.
We expected that tax collection would increase by 15%-20%. But the months after the introduction of the 13% flat tax removed any doubts about the validity of that step, and criticism has practically stopped because tax collection has increased not by 15%, 20% or 25%, as we had expected, but by 70%. It levelled off a bit since, and over the past months the percentage has not been so high, but still the results have far exceeded our boldest expectations.
So, there are no doubts that the liberal transformations on our market have a long-term basis.
Question: You should ask German Finance Minister Hans Eichel what he thinks about tax cuts. (Laughter.)
Has the drastic tax cut reduced the flight of capital and brought some capital back?
Vladimir Putin: As regards the flight of capital, much remains to be done about that. I must say that this is not just a problem for our country. It is a problem for many countries that we describe as developed industrialised countries. It should be divided into two parts. There is illegal export of capital, and there we should take adequate legal measures. But the bulk of capital is exported in a perfectly legal fashion. And there economic means are the only possible and necessary means. And strange though it may seem (though not to the experts), the easiest thing is liberalisation, while the Government preserves and even in some ways increases its control. Liberalisation in the currency sphere, currency circulation and eventual free movement of capital. The fewer the restrictions on capita, the fewer concerns there are that capital will flow out of the country.
In countries with a developed market economy a legal system is in place which maximises liberalisation and on the other hand, ensures government control. We cannot make a great leap because we should think about creating a modern system of government control over capital movement. Such a system has yet to be created here. But we are contemplating and we are determined to pass on to liberalisation. I repeat, time is needed to create a civilised modern system of government control over capital movement. The absence of a control mechanism leads to non-market methods in matters of capital movement.
Question: Germans feel great sympathy for the Russian people. At the same time, it is known, and you have probably been told, that there are representatives of the so-called Russian mafia who are throwing money right and left and thus cast a shadow on Russia. Of course, there are some unpleasant types among Russians and among Germans, but this is beside the point. Can you do anything about it?
Vladimir Putin: You know, first of all in Europe all the people from the former Soviet Union are considered to be Russian. That is not so. But more importantly, one has to honestly admit that the people who have made fortunes overnight cannot always behave in accordance with the position they have come to occupy due to their unexpected wealth. It takes some time to get used to such a position. But it passes quickly.
As for the mafia, that too is a sphere that we should not overlook. But I wouldn’t exaggerate things. Mafia is not a Russian word.
Question: You have mentioned Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder a couple of times. You are thought to be friends. Do you believe that genuine friendship can exist in politics? There are many leaders who say it is impossible, who say that it is a deal, although it is based on reciprocity and does not rule out mutual sympathies. But they claim that there can be no genuine friendship. What do you think about such statements?
Vladimir Putin: I must say that Gerhard is a very pleasant man to deal with, but he is also a tough negotiator. We feel no discomfort due to the fact that in the course of our business dealings we have to be pragmatic and defend the interests of our economies and our countries. But I must say that in the current situation there are no topics that could wreck our personal relationship. On the contrary, our good personal chemistry creates a favourable atmosphere for the business discussion. But I do not feel in the least uncomfortable when I have to say: “You know, this or that proposal does not suit Russia.” And he for his part told me many times: “This is good, we are ready to discuss it, but that we can never agree with.” This is absolutely normal. Indeed, I know that when he says “no” it is a considered “no”, and it should be an incentive to us to revisit the issue again and again.
Moreover, I repeat, when he says “no” I know that the “no” is based on some sound thinking. It is a “no” of a person who does not brush aside any proposal that we make, it is a “no” of a person who regards Russia with sympathy. It should induce us to have another look at the problem and approach it from a different angle and to look for a compromise.
Question: And sometimes one needs to show more understanding when the Chancellor says “yes”. I, for one, forgave him his marriage to the editor of the Focus magazine, a very competent editor. Doris Koepf was in our editorial office for six years since the Focus magazine was founded. And he said “yes” to her.
Vladimir Putin: That’s a major coup, you infiltrated your own person into the Chancellor’s family.
Question: Rather, it is testimony to the editor’s excellence. She has always been a good editor and a good Social Democrat, whose views were not always shared by the majority of her staff.
Vladimir Putin: You know, she is a very interesting person in her own right. When they visited with us, we sat down to talk with Gerhard in the evening and we agreed that our wives would spend 20–30 minutes with us and then retire. As it happened, the four of us talked until 5 a.m. She is a very interesting person to talk to, with a very good background. I don’t think you have done any harm by infiltrating such a person into the Chancellor’s family.
Question: She is also a very smart and beautiful advisor.
Are you happy about the image you have in Germany? A book about you has been published under the title “A German at the Kremlin”. Naturally, your years in Germany have not passed without a trace. What personal traits, do you think, have been misrepresented to the German public and differ from your own opinion of yourself?
Vladimir Putin: I must say that, unfortunately, I have no time to read books about myself. I think I know myself better than those who write about me.
Question: But perhaps you keep secret some of the things that you know about yourself?
Vladimir Putin: If I tell you all, what will happen to all the people who want to write something?
As for my impressions of Germany, they are extremely favourable. But this is not surprising. Ask any person who has lived in another country for several years, for five years. It is a long period in the life of any person. It is part of my life, so I can say that Germany is part of my own life. My child was born there, and my children’s first language was German. I too try to speak German. Because I know no other foreign language, it is particularly valuable to me as an additional link with the European culture. It is, I repeat, particularly valuable.
And then, I mixed a lot with Germans. I was not a big boss when I lived in Germany. And we communicated with many Germans on a day-to-day basis, not only in Dresden but in other cities in East Germany. I must say that I have no negative recollections, no negative experience whatsoever. At a certain period I had more friends among Germans than here, because we had lived there for many years.
Question: Are you still in touch with some of them?
Vladimir Putin: Yes, of course. And when I worked in St Petersburg my love of Germany made itself felt. I remember that at a meeting with diplomats accredited in St Petersburg, the then US Consul-General said jokingly, addressing his colleagues: “I would like to introduce Mr Putin, the Consul-General of the Federal Republic of Germany to St Petersburg.”
You know, at the time I had no reason to hide the fact that I had been a security agent. I announced it openly at once. And it created no problems for me. I could freely work to build the relations between the north-western region of Russia and its biggest city, St Petersburg, with the German-speaking countries. I was in charge of the city’s external relations, and it is one of the country’s largest cities with a population of 5 million. We have many contacts, considering Germany’s traditional interest in north-western Russia, and we had a lot of contacts with German-speaking countries. So I made more friends in Germany.
Question: Your career rise was swift. You certainly achieved a lot within a comparatively short space of time. How does it make you feel? What does power mean to you? And without any doubt you possess power. You have enemies, you have an opposition, but you also wield great power.
Vladimir Putin: I try not to think about it, and I think I am succeeding. I see the concrete tasks that I face and that need to be solved and I try to do it as best I can, I give it everything I got, and I work a lot.
I think if my fate has shaped up that way, there are some problems of course, but one thing on the positive side is that fate has given me an opportunity to do for my country what other people cannot do because of their position. And I have to make the best use of this opportunity.
I think the unquestioned advantages of a democratic state are that the person at the top of the power pyramid should never forget that he should act in such a way as to be able tomorrow to live in this country, look people honestly in the eye and recall fondly the times when he was taking decisions on which the fates of millions of people depended.
This is particularly so in Russia because Russia is in the process of building its statehood and its civil society. A person who today is a big boss should remember that after a while he will be a rank-and-file citizen and will have to live in the society he is creating today. I try to always keep that in mind.
Question: At the end of our talk I would like to come back to the somewhat unpleasant topic with which we started because you gave us an answer that intrigued us a great deal. You said you had information relevant to the US. Of course, that raises a question: was it specific information or information of a general character, could this information have provided a lead?
Vladimir Putin: So what is your question?
Question: What sort of information was it, perhaps it came from the CIS countries, information that the Americans either did not receive or did not pay attention to?
Vladimir Putin: As regards concrete terrorist attacks, we had no specific information on that. But we had information that terrorists were preparing attacks on American citizens, American property abroad and on the territory of the United States. All this information needed additional investigation. We provided our American partners with this information in a timely manner. It does not mean that they could have known about the planned attack from this data. But I don’t know what they did with that information.
Voice: Thank you very much for the interview, for your patience and for your time.
Vladimir Putin: Thank you.