Lord Robertson: Ladies and Gentlemen,
President Putin and I have had a long conversation about a whole series of issues of mutual interest to Russia and to NATO. I think these discussions have marked a major milestone in NATO-Russia relationships and I think the two of us have acquired the habit of straight talking which allows us to make our relationship the relationship between Russia and NATO, ever more relevant.
The recent horrifying atrocities in the United States I think have underlined the fact that there is far more that unites NATO and Russia than has divided us in the past few years. And on behalf of the North Atlantic Alliance I would like to offer my profound thanks to President Putin and to the Russian people for this spontaneous way in which they have reacted to the terrible atrocity which affected America three weeks ago.
And what the people of the world now expect is decisive leadership from the leaders of the democratic world at a time when their safety has become overshadowed by international terrorism and its tentacles.
For some forty years NATO and Russia sat and glowered at each other, for another ten years we tip-toed around each other but now I believe that we are entering an era where substantial and practical cooperation is going to build a unique relationship between us.
Russia is a special and a major partner of NATO and in the NATO-Russia Permanent Joint Council we have already established a very considerable programme of cooperation on subjects and areas that would have been unimaginable only a few years ago. And today we have identified a number of new areas where NATO and Russia can work together only some of them arising out of the need to deal with the terrorist challenge which faces all of us equally.
Yesterday, the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation declared that the attack on the United States of America on the 11th of September should be taken as an attack on all other 18 NATO allies. The attack at the heart of the United States was not just an attack on the United States and members of NATO it was an attack on the values that unite Russia with the countries of the North Atlantic Alliance and that must make us all the more committed to acting decisively against those who bring such wanton and reckless violence into the heart of any civilised city.
Vladimir Putin: Ladies and gentlemen,
I would like to stress that while we focused, of course, on the terrorist threat, we went far beyond that particular problem and discussed the whole range of issues pertaining to relations between Russia and NATO. It was a very frank and substantive discussion. We discussed the situation in various regions of the world and ways to improve the relations between Russia and NATO. We have accumulated a good experience of cooperation. And I think we could profitably discuss the development of our relations in at least two areas. These are joint efforts in the purely political sphere and broadening our cooperation in the fight against terror. The Secretary General did not mention it, but I don’t think I would divulge a big secret if I say that the Secretary General has proposed creating a working body to consider the possibilities of expanding, deepening and qualitatively improving the relations between Russia and NATO. I find it a very good and useful proposal. We will certainly support it. Thank you for the initiative.
Question: I have a question for President Putin.
This morning the American administration submitted a list of request to all members of NATO in the fight against terrorism — have you been informed about that and what is your reaction?
Vladimir Putin: I think that within such an Alliance as NATO and those within the context of Article 5, such a request is quite appropriate and quite a normal practice. And quite naturally this list was sent, distributed amongst the NATO members and was not sent to Russia because Russia is not a NATO member. But we are familiar with the contents of the list of the issues and problems. There was no secret about this list for Russia. The exchange of information in the area that you mentioned is underway as we speak between Russia and the United States on a bilateral basis. At the political level we are extremely satisfied with the way things develop while at the operational level the mechanisms that exist would require further improvement and refinement.
Question: Mr President, speaking at the Bundestag a week ago, you urged the need not just to pay lip service to the building of partnership relations between countries, but to actually build them on the basis of real principles of openness, equality and mutual respect. Has your plea been heard? We would like also to hear the reiteration of this position here and we would also like to hear a comment of Lord Robertson on this.
And the second question: how do you feel about NATO expansion?
Vladimir Putin: Let me begin with the second part of your question. I have just been answering a similar question put to me by a correspondent of Le Monde at the first news conference today following our meeting with the European Union leadership. Our position on NATO expansion is known and it has not changed in any way. Of course we said so to the Secretary General today. In the light of the recent events I think what I am going to say should be clear and evident.
Let us imagine that NATO expands. New members are admitted to the organisation. Who will feel more secure as a result? Which European country will be more secure? The people of which country will feel more secure? Ask any person in the street in Berlin or Paris or any other capital whether the NATO decision makes him or her feel more secure against terrorist threats of a scale and character that occurred in New York and Washington. The answer, I am sure, will be “no”.
I think we should break the pattern when the problem of expansion keeps rekindling a kind of destructive discussion between Russia and NATO. We should break away from that logic.
And this brings me to the answer to the first part of your question. Have the Western leaders heard our signals about our readiness to see closer cooperation between Russia and NATO? We have a feeling that these signals have been heard. It remains to be seen what the practical outcome will be. But I know the clearly expressed position of the President of the United States, and we feel a change in the approach of the Western community and the United States after the clear signals from the US President on the need to change the character of relations between Russia and the United States and the whole Western community. We are aware of practical changes taking place in the quality of our relations. And I can say pretty much the same after meeting with the leadership of the European Union. The practical proposal made by the NATO Secretary General today confirms that NATO too is ready to expand and change the quality of relations with the Russian Federation. We are ready to work towards that end.
Lord Robertson: I agree with the President that there will be an enlargement of NATO next year but there has been no decision taken as to how many countries will join the Alliance.
At the moment there is no application from Russia but what there is, is a partnership that is growing in importance, in depth and in relevance and that is what we must focus on just now. It is a right of any country in the world to choose its own security arrangements and that right applies to the Russian Federation just as it applies to any other country. But today's discussion was about how we increase the quality of the unique and special partnership that NATO has with Russia and how to make it work better in the interest not only of NATO and Russia but of the wider Euro-Atlantic community as well. NATO is not interested in recreating any dividing lines in the Euro-Atlantic area. What we are interested in is building up relationships that matter, that are based on mutual respect, based on a grown-up attitude to the common problems that we face. That is what we discussed today and that is the way we will take forward the NATO-Russia relationship.