Question: Mr President, you were in your office and you saw the attack on the World Trade Center on television. What were you thinking at the time and what were you doing?
Vladimir Putin: I was working, it was a usual working day. As for feelings, I had all sorts of feelings. First of all, odd though it may seem, I had a strange feeling of guilt for the tragedy. You know that we had spoken a lot and in different places about the threat of international terrorism, we had spoken about possible threats to the United States and some other countries, but we could not predict who specifically would strike and where. So, the first impulse was a feeling of dismay and, I repeat, even a certain sense of guilt.
But apart from that, I must tell you that I was very well aware of how the American people and the American leadership felt at the time because shortly before that, in 1999, we ourselves were the targets of terrorist attacks. I don’t mean just the events in the North Caucasus, in Chechnya. I am referring also to the explosions of residential blocks in the Russian capital Moscow and in some other cities of the Russian Federation that claimed hundreds of innocent victims. And I knew how the American people felt and I had very strong sympathy and was very emotional.
Question: Did you feel guilt because you hadn’t given us enough warning? I am aware that when you met with President Clinton, you warned him about the bin Laden problem but you said that your words were ignored and that this surprised you. Did you have a feeling of guilt because you should have been more persistent in your warnings so that we would be ready?
Vladimir Putin: I wouldn’t like to pass judgment on the actions of my colleagues, including the former President of the United States. He too was in a difficult situation, but of course, even then we counted on more active cooperation in the fight against international terrorism. I don’t know if the terrorist attacks on the United States could have been prevented but I repeat, we expected to have closer cooperation.
And I would like to repeat, it was a pity that we, our special services had not obtained timely information on these planned attacks and warned the American people and the American leadership about the tragedy which they have had to confront.
Question: President Bush said that you were the first head of state to call him after the September 11 attack. What did you tell him over the phone?
Vladimir Putin: First, I expressed solidarity with the American people. I was just saying that Russia had itself experienced terrorist strikes, especially after the houses in Moscow were blown up. And I had a very clear idea – perhaps more than anyone else – of how the American people and the American president felt. I very much wanted to show solidarity with the American people, not only on my own behalf, but on behalf of the Russian people. I know it was very important and I acted not only on an impulse, but, I must be honest with you, I acted proceeding from pragmatic considerations. I was very well aware then and I still think today that pooling the efforts of the international community in the fight against terror is very important, just as it was important to let the American people know about our solidarity so that they would feel they were not alone at that difficult moment.
Question: After 9/11 you seem to have made a strategic and historic choice in favour of bringing Russia and the United States closer. It could have posed some risks for you in Russia as a result of a rapprochement. Why did you decide to take this step?
Vladimir Putin: It may seem a surprising thing to say, but Russia made that choice a long time ago, although unfortunately, not everybody noticed it, and after September 11 it was impossible not to notice it. Indeed, it was brought home to everyone that Russia could and indeed had to be a truly strategic ally of the whole civilized community, not least of the United States. I think that the tragic events of September 11 opened everybody’s eyes on that score. They reminded us that if we want to be effective we have to be together.
Question: Do you see this as something similar to the Second World War, an alliance between Russia and the United States in the third world war?
Vladimir Putin: You know, Russia and the United States have a long and positive history of relations. Over the centuries Russia has traditionally felt sympathy for the United States. If we recall history, back in 1775 the English king, who was actively recruiting mercenaries to fight in North America, asked Catherine the Great to send volunteers from Russia. She turned him down in a gentle but quite firm way in a personal letter. Russia was one of the few countries of the Old World to categorically oppose the division of the United States that could have resulted from the war between North and South. The United States, for its part, was probably the only great power that sympathized with Russia during the Crimean War. And there were many other positive episodes, not to mention the Second and First World Wars when we were allies and did much to fight the common enemy.
And today, of course, when the international situation has changed fundamentally, today, when we face large-scale threats of a very different character we cannot but support each other on these matters. And I am sure we are able to do it quite effectively.
Question: Is the Cold War over?
Vladimir Putin: I think it has long been over. The problem is, that everything that was created during the Cold War to cater to the interests of the Cold War, many of these instruments still survive, live a life of their own and seek to preserve themselves. It is our task to understand the profound changes that have taken place in the world, eliminate every obstacle that stands in the way of cooperation and work together.
Question: So the answer to the question whether the Cold War has ended is an unequivocal yes?
Vladimir Putin: There can be no doubt about it. Not only has the Cold War ended, but conditions have been created in the world for Russia and the United States to go hand in hand in solving many problems of our time, both in the field of economics and security.
Question: I would like to ask you about your relations with President Bush. When President Bush first saw you he said he looked you in the eye and he saw your soul. Some people smiled when they heard it. Did he really see your soul? And what did he see in your soul?
Vladimir Putin: It is hard for me to say what he saw in my soul, you would have to put some leading questions to President Bush himself, but you know what I think of those who smiled at these words or hearing them, you know what I think about it? I think it is not by chance that it was he and not they who became the President of the United States. It means that he sees better than they do, and has a deeper insight into problems.
I must tell you that it was largely due to the position of President Bush that the tragic events of September 11 did not take Russian-American relations by surprise.
I am grateful to him for repeating several times that I was the first to ring him up and so on, but it happened, not least, because of his own position with regard to Russia and much of the credit for this should go to him.
So, he made a big contribution to the fact that the international coalition in the fight against terror is being formed so successfully, and the first step in that direction, by the way, was our meeting in Ljubljana, when he said these kind words addressed to me and my country.
I would say more: you know, from the brief experience of dealing with President Bush I am convinced that he is a solid partner. We can argue on certain problems, disagree on certain things, but I have already noticed, it caught my attention that if he agrees and says “yes” he always “follows the issue through,” he always sees to it that the accords reached are put into practice. Not only I, but the whole Russian leadership have paid attention to that trait of the President. It is an important trait and we value it highly. It shows that in general you can do business with this man, that he sticks by the agreements reached even if they have been reached through complex negotiations and exchange of opinions.
Question: You mean that if he promises to do something he does it?
Vladimir Putin: Yes, that is absolutely true.
Question: I hear that you too keep your promises.
Vladimir Putin: I try.
Question: You have such a reputation.
And now if we could turn to some possible agreements. There seems to be an opportunity now to agree on nuclear weapons cuts when you meet President Bush. But you are still at odds over the ABM Treaty. President Bush would like to get it out of the way and create his own missile defence system. How can these two differing positions be reconciled? Where is the compromise?
Vladimir Putin: It is hard for me to speak about it in definite terms, because a compromise can only be found as a result of intense negotiations, but as regards offensive and defensive weapons systems, yes, that was our approach. We believe that both components should be considered together and negotiated together, because they are closely interconnected.
We have a certain platform on the basis of which we could reach agreements on offensive weapons (I mean cutting offensive weapons down to certain ceilings, and I think we can quickly reach mutually acceptable agreements there), and in this context we can find a common approach to defensive systems. At any rate, our position is fairly flexible. We proceed on the basis that the 1972 Treaty on anti-missile defence is important, effective and useful, but we have a common negotiating platform proceeding from which we can reach agreements, at least I hope so.
Question: Can you give us a clue? President Bush says: “I will create a missile defence system.” You say that the ABM Treaty should be preserved. Where is the possible compromise? I understand that you will conduct negotiations on all these issues, all that is fine…
Vladimir Putin: First, the ABM Treaty already has some potential for the creation of defence systems. We have created such a system around Moscow and the United States around their main nuclear base. The Treaty contains other provisions that could help us find common approaches. Anyway, experts are sure that proceeding from these provisions we can well formulate terms within the existing Treaty and, without changing its substance, create conditions that would make it possible to provide an adequate response to modern challenges and remove the concerns the United States leadership has in the field of strategic defence.
Question: So, a solution can be found so that the President could go ahead with creating his defence system?
Vladimir Putin: The President’s position also evolves, his opinion is not frozen. Today our partners speak about limited defence systems not to cause damage to each other and so on. But, I repeat, this is a question for specialists. I must tell you honestly that in deciding on this issue we will proceed from the national security interests of the Russian Federation and from the general ideas, the philosophy of building international security as we see it.
Question: Mr President, you are rendering great support to the United States in our fight against terror. But some advisors here in Russia are wondering what your country would gain from this: perhaps a closer relationship with NATO or perhaps help to Russia in repaying its debt or perhaps admitting Russia to the World Trade Organization? Do you expect to get something in exchange for your support?
Vladimir Putin: I don’t know who has been saying that. I think it was Churchill who put it very aptly: he said that politicians think about the next election and statesmen think about future generations. I think these words accurately describe the present situation. Russia is not expecting any preferences or any reward for its position in supporting the United States in the fight against terror. It is our common goal: to fight terrorism and conquer it, and we have a common enemy, international terrorism.
The work we are doing together is in our common interest. But it is equally in our common interest, believe me, to integrate Russia into the present-day international communities in every sense of the word, in the defence systems and in the political systems. Judging from our recent discussions with the West European leaders and with the US leaders, everybody is well aware of it. I am sure we will often be useful to each other in the future.
In this context, speaking about Russia’s rapprochement with the West and the United States, not only Russia, but the Western community itself is interested in it, and it cannot in any way be seen as payment to Russia for the position that it takes today. Russia is not bargaining, it is offering cooperation.
Question: Let us now pass on to Afghanistan. How effective, in your opinion, is the US military campaign in Afghanistan? Is it true that the Taliban has sustained heavy damage?
Vladimir Putin: Your question contains a certain message between the lines. Of late I have often heard such questions from Western media people. They may be worded in different ways, but the meaning is, how do you assess the effectiveness of the US counter-terrorist operation in Afghanistan, is it not stalled and so on. Such questions can only be put by people who do not know the reality on the ground, who don’t know what is happening and those who expect instant, brilliant and immediate results. Military actions in Afghanistan cannot be a cakewalk, nobody promised that. Has President Bush ever said that we will come to Afghanistan and solve all the problems there with the help of our air force within two or three days, three or four weeks or several months? He never said anything like it. He said that it would be a prolonged and perhaps debilitating struggle that would call for sacrifice, but for some reason nobody recalls that.
But I know this from the information that Russia has, from our experience and the war in Afghanistan, and from the events in the Caucasus. Let us see how many years the international community has failed to pay due attention to the events that were taking place in Afghanistan. Over many years terrorists did not only de facto buy the whole of Afghanistan on the cheap, they dug in there, and they had been thoroughly preparing for what is happening today. They did not sit on their hands, I assure you. They had enough manpower and resources to prepare for their current actions.
Besides, as we now see, they are trying, and not always without success, to shift actions in the fight against terrorism into a different domain, into a fight between religions, a fight against Islam, something we should not allow to happen. In fact they are like card sharpers who replace a card in a stack, but it does complicate our work and the US actions in Afghanistan.
I think there is another aspect which Russia has faced and now the United States is facing. It may be an awkward thing to say because I am shortly to visit the United States and what I am going to say is a sort of criticism. I think that the United States is to some extent losing the war not in the military sphere, but in the information sphere. Strange as it may seem, I think that terrorists are outplaying us all in the information field. They are more aggressive and they present their case more vividly. They are more emotional, they achieve their goals better than those who fight terrorism by appealing to universal human values while having nothing in common with them. They make very effective use of this in fighting us and I think that we are all losing. This is the area in which much still needs to be done.
As for the military aspect, in our view everything is going as it had to go and I agree with the United States leadership that it will take a good deal of time and effort and perhaps sacrifice to restore order in Afghanistan, to help the Afghan people conquer terrorism on their own territory and restore the principles of democracy. It would call for major efforts not only on the part of the United States and not only the countries which today have a shared commitment to fighting terrorism, but it would call for the efforts of the Untied Nations and that would require a complex of economic, social and political measures.
Question: When you refer to “information” you mean what we call PR, that is, bringing the message across?
Vladimir Putin: Yes, of course. Look what is happening: the way terrorists kill people, torture them and prepare these terrorist acts is shown once and is quickly forgotten but if we face, unfortunately, civilian casualties, this is played up and exaggerated. And of course this can only have one aim. There are hostilities in Afghanistan and the enemy’ aim is to loosen up the international coalition from within, to bring pressure on the political leadership of the Untied States and to destabilise the internal situation inside the United States; to bring pressure on the political leaders of the countries which support the United States. That is what it is being done for and sometimes those who set such goals for themselves manage to achieve them.
Question: And so now we are losing the information battle?
Vladimir Putin: We are certainly not winning it.
Question: Do you think we will find Osama bin Laden and how important is it to find him?
Vladimir Putin: I think it is possible, but difficult. Of course it is important, because the main figures must be punished. But on the whole it won’t solve the problem of terrorism. To fight international terror effectively on a global scale it is necessary, as I said, to use not only military force, it is necessary to use other means – political, economic and social, it should be a multi-pronged effort of the international community to combat that evil.
Question: You know that the Russian Army had 300,000 soldiers who fought there for ten years and finally left. Russia could not win that war. Could the United States derive a lesson from the experience the Soviet Union acquired in Afghanistan?
Vladimir Putin: I think the United States, and all of us must derive a lesson from this. I wouldn’t say that Russia lost the war in Afghanistan, on the whole it rather successfully withdrew its troops – a large force – and left behind a pro-Soviet government in Kabul. But the mistake of the former Soviet leadership was that it had left behind a pro-Soviet government. Afghanistan is not a country that can be privatised by anyone. The Afghan leadership, if it wants to be successful, must have internal support of all the social and ethnic groups in Afghanistan. The future Afghan leadership cannot but lean on broad international support.
I repeat, nobody will be able to privatise Afghanistan: neither the United States, nor Russia, nor the border states, we must all understand that. That is the first lesson to be learnt. And secondly, we should not impose our will on the Afghan people by force of arms; we should help the Afghan people sort out their own problems. Thank God, there are such forces in Afghanistan: there is the internationally recognised government of Dr Rabbani and its military arm, the so-called Northern Alliance. There are other opposition groups that are worth supporting and they must be supported. If we proceed from these considerations, if we take into account the whole negative experience not only of the Soviet efforts, but much earlier experiences, for example, the experience of Britain in Afghanistan, we can reasonably look forward to success.
Question: Under what conditions, if at all, could Russia send its ground troops to Afghanistan?
Vladimir Putin: That is not an option for us, it would be very difficult for us, and I will tell you why. For us to send our troops to Afghanistan is the same as for you, for America, to send troops back to Vietnam, it is even more difficult because the Afghan war ended not as long ago as the Vietnam war. But I must tell you something else: the Russian Army is already helping the United States, and not virtually but de facto. First, it is helping by providing intelligence, and it is intelligence of very good and top quality. We are helping with our knowledge of the situation in Afghanistan, and we are helping the Northern Alliance. We have supplied tens of millions dollars worth of weapons to the Northern Alliance. We are ready to help the United States to rescue people, US citizens, US servicemen, including on the territory of Afghanistan.
But there is one other circumstance I must note. Today the Russian Armed Forces – although we have stopped large-scale military operations in the North Caucasus, in Chechnya – still face mercenaries, including from Arab countries. They are trying to be active there to this day.
At a meeting in Shanghai – and I think President Bush will not be cross with me if I say it, because it is not much of a secret – I showed him some operational documents which speak about the plans of international terrorists to move from Chechnya to Afghanistan, in order to, and I quote, “to kill Americans”. I am quoting. The American people must know about it. These are not fantasies or propaganda. These are realities. And we have already lost thousands of men in Chechnya, a lot of them in military actions against international terrorists (unfortunately, most of them were citizens of Islamic states, many from Arab countries). So, I think I have fully answered your question, but I would still like to add one more thing: the Russian Army is already rendering not virtual but entirely specific support, and that applies to the actions of our Armed Forces.
Question: I would like to talk about Iraq. There are reports that Mohammed Atta, one of the terrorists who masterminded the attacks on the World Trade Centre, met with Iraqi intelligence. If it is proved that Iraq was involved in the terrorist attacks would you support American bombings in Iraq and perhaps even take part in these bombings?
Vladimir Putin: As regards the problems of Iraq, we have long determined our position on it. It is to support the aspiration of the international community to find out once and for all whether or not Iraq has weapons of mass destruction and whether it is working to build such weapons. In this connection we believe that the international inspection of the relevant facilities in Iraq should be restored, and we have made a proposal in that connection which we are discussing with our colleagues, including our American colleagues.
I regret to say that unfortunately we have not been able to convince the Iraqi leadership that our proposals are acceptable, so it is a complicated process. I don’t think these questions can be solved by bombing Iraq. As we know, the British and American air forces are already carrying out air raids, unfortunately, without results. But we should understand what we are trying to achieve. If our goal is to be satisfied that there are no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, we should move towards that goal. I repeat, we have a proposal: Iraq should allow international observers to visit its sites, and in exchange sanctions against Iraq should be lifted. If we find such a solution I think many questions will have been closed.
Question: Will you try?
Vladimir Putin: Yes. We will not only try, we are already actively pursuing these consultations with our European partners and with the United States.
Question: It is about Iran. Russia is sharing its nuclear technology with Iran, allegedly for civilian purposes, but the CIA says that Iran may develop nuclear weapons. If President Bush asks you to cut supplies to Iran, will you agree? Will you cut supplies?
Vladimir Putin: It is a myth, it absolutely does not correspond to reality, it is a case of fiddling with two concepts. We have military-technical cooperation with Iran and we sell arms to Iran. But we sell conventional weapons. We have never sold Iran any hardware or any information that could help them build nuclear weapons or missiles, let alone weapons of mass destruction.
We have projects in the field of nuclear energy, the United States has similar projects in North Korea, for example. It has nothing to do with the creation of nuclear weapons. We are categorically against the transfer of any technologies to Iran that could help it develop nuclear weapons.
Some reports claim that Iran is trying to create weapons of mass destruction. First, this needs to be confirmed. And second, I must say that the international community as a whole should look at this problem without mutual accusations of violating the non-proliferation system and, by building up trust, we should together prevent such developments.
We should be aware of how much the world has changed. The region has another country, Pakistan, which definitely has nuclear weapons. Who helped Pakistan to obtain nuclear weapons? We know how volatile the situation is there, we should all support General Musharraf who is trying to control the situation in the country, but in any case it cannot but worry us.
What is the point I am trying to make? We should try to stop bickering over the issues of non-proliferation. We should understand that it is one of the main threats of our time, one of the, perhaps, main problem of our times. And by building up mutual confidence we must establish the kind of cooperation that we have in some other areas of joint activity, for example, in the fight against narcotics. There, our specialists are working together very effectively. I am sure that we will manage to achieve the same effectiveness on non-proliferation.
Question: I would like to ask you about anthrax and smallpox because our country was very scared. The anthrax that is used in letter attacks is a hi-tech formula which, in the opinion of experts, could only have been obtained in the United States, Iraq or perhaps in Russia. Perhaps spores of anthrax or smallpox have remained from the Soviet times? Could they have been stolen or bought in your country?
Vladimir Putin: I don’t think that is possible. And as far as I know, the analysis of the material in the United States proves beyond reasonable doubt that it could not have been produced in the Soviet Union, let alone Russia. And secondly, the materials of this kind are securely guarded in Russia, as indeed they were in the Soviet Union. I rule that out.
Question: That refers to anthrax, and possibly to smallpox too?
Vladimir Putin: Yes, I think it applies to anthrax and to smallpox. Moreover, I would like to tell you that we are in contact with our American partners and we have no contradictions there, we exchange information on the issue. Any information that could be of interest to our American partners is passed and discussed by our specialists and analysed.
Question: Your country has a vaccine against anthrax. If the need arises and if you are approached, do you have enough of the vaccine to make it available to the United States and will you agree to do so?
Vladimir Putin: As I said, we see cooperation with the United States in general, and in particular over the fight against international terror not as a passing campaign. We believe that we must be partners and perhaps even allies with the United States in many areas of activity, and as regards support and help to the American people in fighting that evil, there can be no doubt about it. We will do all we can. Moreover, the American side has been sounding out these possibilities and our experts are working with their American partners, and this work will continue in a very hands-on way.
Question: Mr President, I would like to ask a few questions about you personally, because you are not very well known in our country. When you became President there were fears because you had worked at the KGB. People thought you were a very authoritarian man and they described you as something dangerous. How would you describe yourself?
Vladimir Putin: I was not described by people, I was described by the press. And people drew conclusions from that information. But the press seems to have overlooked quite a few years of my life. Apart from working with the state security bodies of the Soviet Union, the intelligence agency, I have worked at Leningrad University as vice rector, and later I worked at the Petersburg (Leningrad) legislative assembly, and I worked as deputy mayor of Petersburg for six years. I worked on the President’s staff for a long time, for several years, on the staff of the First President of Russia – all this was passed over unnoticed and forgotten because it was not interesting. The public was fed “juicy pieces” of information for which there is more appetite, so they created such an image.
I am very glad that as a result of my activities my image is changing. We have a saying that one should judge a person not by what he says about himself, but by what he does. I think that the change of the perception of the Russian President is based on the practical actions of the Russian leadership.
Question: You have written about yourself in your book, and you gave a series of interviews. And you describe yourself as a calm and intense man with a low level of fear or anxiety. This feeling of calm or the low sense of danger – are these really your characteristics?
Vladimir Putin: I did not say that, that is what the psychologists from the Foreign Intelligence Service of the Soviet Union, where I worked, said. But so far it hasn’t been a hindrance.
Question: I mean the question about danger. Your wife said that you were tense.
Vladimir Putin: It is for her to judge. It never pays to argue with a woman.
Question: You had a difficult childhood. You grew up in a small flat shared with other families, and there were even rats, you even had to kill rats. What impact has your childhood had on you?
Vladimir Putin: You know, I find it strange that you say I had a difficult childhood. It may appear so to people who lived in affluence and who enjoyed all the benefits of modern civilization. I did not have such opportunities, but I never felt disadvantaged or miserable. Basically, I had the same kind of childhood as millions of Soviet – now Russian – citizens, perhaps even a better childhood in some ways. The main thing was not the material everyday conditions in which I lived, the main thing was the moral conditions. And what mattered was that everybody had affection for me. My parents were very fond of me, I have always felt that, and I am very grateful to them for that. And that sense of affection was the main element that shaped my character.
Question: You wanted to be an intelligence man even before you finished school. As a rule, children do not dream of becoming spies, but you did. Why?
Vladimir Putin: That is not a secret: frankly, I was influenced by literature and films. I did not just want to be a spy, I wanted to be useful to my country, and the profession of an intelligence agent involves risks and an element of romanticism. All that prompted my decision. Besides, it required some intellectual effort on my part: I had to enter university and to learn a foreign language, and each time it was a challenge to me. I always set myself tasks and solved them and that filled my life with a certain positive content.
In general, I try to have no regrets, and as a rule I don’t regret anything. I must say I don’t regret that either. If I had my time over again I would have done the same. There is nothing about my previous life that I have to be ashamed of: I was a fairly successful intelligence officer and worked for my country all the time.
Question: And now I’ll ask you an awful question: did you ever give orders to kill anybody?
Vladimir Putin: No. In general, my work was more of an intellectual character: gathering and analysing various sorts of information, mainly of a political character. Moreover, I joined the security agencies in the mid-1970s and before that I had graduated from Petersburg University where I read law.
Question: Yes, you graduated from the Law Faculty.
Vladimir Putin: Not an intelligence special school, I finished that later. But my basic education was acquired at the Law Faculty of Petersburg University where some of our professors had worked before the 1917 Revolution, and some of them were of a venerable age. It was and still is a very good European law school. Unfortunately, some of my former professors now live and teach in the United States.
So, when I joined the intelligence service I had a certain background and a certain worldview. Besides, in the mid-1970s things were nothing like they were in the Soviet Union in the 1930s, in 1937 when there were mass reprisals in the Soviet Union. Nothing like that was happening in the 1970s. It was even hard to imagine that anyone could have issued an order for an extrajudicial execution — that was simply impossible in the 1970s. So, thank God, nothing like that happened to me.
Question: I have seen many films. You were a Judo champion in 1976. And you said that Judo was not just a sport, but a philosophy. Has Judo taught you how to defeat your opponents or enemies?
Vladimir Putin: The main thing that sport taught me was to respect my partner.
Question: Do you have a philosophy that determines your judgments and decisions?
Vladimir Putin: You know, frankly, I wouldn’t like to go into that because if I were to speak about my philosophy and the ideas that guide me, it would mean yielding to you and opening up, like in a confession. But I must say that the main ideas and the main principles that form the basis of contemporary morality – these are the ideas that guide all decent people, including myself.
Question: People may wonder why President Putin is absolutely crazy about a small shaggy toy poodle. Why don’t you have a Russian wolfhound, why a poodle?
Vladimir Putin: To begin with, I had a wolfhound. Unfortunately, he died, he was run over by a car and we were all very miserable because it was a very kind wolfhound. It was a very powerful dog, formidable-looking, but very kind, it had a very good disposition.
I can’t say that I am crazy about the little poodle; it’s my children who are mad about poodles. We have two poodles, a boy and a girl, and they are the dogs of my children and wife. But I have another dog, I have a black Labrador, and with the Labrador it is a case of mutual love.
Question: Will you come to America with your wife?
Vladimir Putin: Most probably yes, unless something happens. Anyway, Mr President has invited my wife and I, and I will come with my wife.
Question: In America the first lady usually plays a public role. Does your wife play a public role in Russia?
Vladimir Putin: You know, our tradition differs from the American one. Perhaps because of this or because of her mindset, my wife does not seek to occupy a public position, and anyway, it was not she but I who has been elected President.
But she is a very active person. She is a philologist by training and today she pays much attention to supporting and promoting the Russian language. I think it is a very good cause and I try to help her and support her to the best of my ability.
Question: I would like to go back to foreign policy, and the situation between Israel and Palestine. Russia has played a role in this process. Do you have any ideas as to what can be done to change the situation there?
Vladimir Putin: We are worried about the situation for several reasons. First, the attitude of Russia to the problems of the Middle East is cardinally different from the attitude of the former Soviet Union. As you know, in former times the Soviet Union restricted foreign travel. In general, a totalitarian regime tends to isolate itself, and those times are long gone.
We see our citizens – those who live on the territory of the Russian Federation and those who have left and live abroad, we include them too – as an additional human and intellectual resource. Almost one third of the population in Israel comes from the Soviet Union or Russia. And we are not indifferent to the fate of these people. Many of them are on the battle line in Palestine, it is no secret that many of them have died and this worries us. And these are people who have not just left the Soviet Union or Russia: they are native Russian speakers, they grew up in the Russian cultural tradition, these are people who have relatives and friends here and frequently visit Russia. So, I repeat, we care about their future.
On the other hand, we have always had traditional ties with the Arab world and with Palestine. We have no problem with recognising the Palestinian state, which was done de facto before me. We believe that this unique combination could help bring about a settlement. Anyway, we are ready to play any mediatory role that could facilitate a resolution to the conflict.
Question: I would like to take you back to what you said about how Russia feels about the Arab world and Palestine.
Vladimir Putin: There is no other alternative except an immediate end to violence and the resumption of talks. We very much hope that our joint efforts will bring the two conflicting sides to such a situation.
Question: Do you think there should be an independent Palestinian state?
Vladimir Putin: There are resolutions of the United Nations to that effect and we must comply with them.
In general, if there is to be peace in the region, lasting peace, all the peoples living in that explosive region of the world should not feel infringed, on the contrary, they should feel comfortable. I think this is what both the Israelis and the Palestinians want.
Question: Mr President, we have reports that nuclear materials have been stolen from Russia or have even been sold and many defectors have testified before the US Congress that there are portable nuclear weapons, so called “nuclear briefcases” that have been taken out of Russia. Do you think that is so?
Vladimir Putin: No, I don’t think that corresponds to reality, it is a myth. One can imagine that somebody had tried to sell some nuclear secrets, but we have no documentary proof of such incidents. As we said when we discussed the problems of nuclear non-proliferation, I think it is one of the biggest challenges of our time, and we must pool our efforts to prevent proliferation, possible proliferation of nuclear technologies, weapons of mass destruction and so on.
Question: Is it one of the key issues you will discuss when you go to America?
Vladimir Putin: We discussed this topic repeatedly with President Bush and of course we will continue the discussion. It is the key question of our time.
Question: Mr President, I know that you are studying English, you have been learning it for several months. Next week you will go to the United States. Could you say some words to the American people in English?
Vladimir Putin: [Speaking in English] This is difficult to me. I hope that the visit to the United States will be helpful to all American people, to us, to Russia, to both countries.
Voice: Very good English. Thank you, Mr President for giving of your time for this interview.
Vladimir Putin: Thank you for your questions.